Social Security 2008 - Mastery Exercise No. 2

Due: No later than 11:55 p.m. Feb. 24 (Sunday night)


Remember that this is not a research problem. Beyond consulting the relevant portions of the Act and Regulations, you are not expected to go outside the course materials and presentations for Topics 1 through 6.

Keep a copy of your submission. I would suggest that you prepare your response in your favorite word processor, save it, and then copy and paste the text into the box below. (But don't forget to add your name.)

The course database should respond to your submission with a confirmation number. In the unlikely event that the system is not functioning, send me email to report the problem and try a bit later. If the problem persists and the deadline looms send your submission by email.


Theresa Wilkes died in early January, following a short illness. She is survived by her husband, Samuel (age 43), and several children. Living with Theresa and Samuel until shortly before her death were the couple's two-year-old son, Joshua, and Samuel's daughter from a prior marriage, Anna (age 8). Theresa also had a child from a prior marriage, a son named Dylan (age 9), who has, ever since his parent's divorce 3 years ago, lived with his dad in another state. While Dylan's dad has custody, Dylan has regularly spent some holiday time and up to a month during the summer with his mom. Aside from taking care of Dylan during those periods Theresa and Samuel have not been contributing to Dylan's support.

Prior to the birth of Joshua, Theresa had worked quite steadily at a good salary. This is reflected in her PIA which, according to her most recent Social Security statement must be around $1,600, with a family maximum a few dollars over $2,800. For the two years prior to her death, however, Theresa cut back to 3 half-days a week, devoting the balance of her time to caring for Joshua and Anna. As a part-time worker she ceased to be covered by her employer's term life insurance and died with none.

Samuel, still dazed by Theresa's death, is trying to figure out his family's altered financial picture. He is a school teacher, with a (ten-month) salary of $45,000. During the period Theresa has been earning less, he worked at assorted jobs through the summer months picking up another $8,000.

Samuel's conversation with the local Social Security office left him puzzled about the role that Social Security survivors benefits will play in his family's future. He understood the Social Security person to be saying that part of the benefits to be paid on Theresa's account will go to Dylan, reducing the amount available for himself, Joshua and Anna. Samuel also came away unsure whether Anna would qualify for a benefit and how his own future earnings will bear on the Social Security payment to his family.

Posing a few questions to Samuel, you determine that Theresa's ex, Raymond Hay, has apparently not remarried, that she and Raymond were married for 8 years prior to their divorce, that during the two years Theresa was working part-time she earned around $15,000, and finally that she and Samuel placed their earnings in a joint bank account from which all household expenses were paid. You also discover that during the three months or so of Theresa's final illness, Anna and Joshua were cared for by Samuel's mother, in her home, which is some sixty miles away from the city in which Samuel lives. They are now back with him. Samuel has no idea what Raymond Hay makes, but believes it to be less than his own salary. Raymond is a self-employed potter.

Samuel asks for your help in understanding these points:

1) Please explain, in rough terms and no more than one paragraph, how Samuel's continuing earnings will affect the survivors benefits paid on account of Theresa's death. He is particularly interested in whether Social Security might pick up the slack during the the two summer months when he is not teaching. (He doubts he will work summers now that Theresa is gone.)

2) Please also explain, as concretely and confidently as you can and in no more than three paragraphs, how benefits will be distributed to Samuel, Raymond Hay, and the three children, focusing especially on Anna's eligibility and the likelihood that Dylan and his dad will receive monthly benefits at the expense of the Social Security payment to Samuel's three-person household.

Your name:

Note: This and the other three mastery exercises will count significantly toward the "class participation" element of your final grade for the course.