Divorcée should be able to tap into ex's Social Security

DEAR BRUCE: I was told I could collect my ex-husband's Social Security, as I was married to him longer than 10 years. Problem is I cannot find my divorce papers, and the county we were divorced in sent a letter stating they have nothing on file. I have sent the County of Records in Sacramento two letters with checks enclosed, which haven't been cashed. I am frustrated, as the Social Security people say they need a copy of those papers. I can't remember who the attorney was that handled the divorce — my husband handled that. I just wonder if the papers were ever filed, but I do need an answer. What else can I do? — R.C., via e-mail

DEAR R.C.: The information you received is correct. I find it difficult to believe that the county where you were divorced has no record of it. It would be to your interest to have a local attorney in Sacramento search the records personally. Oftentimes, a clerk is going to be less diligent than someone on the payroll. Have you discussed this with your ex or are you not speaking (or perhaps he is no longer with us)? He might remember who his attorney was. I'm sure someone can come up with the appropriate name somewhere by going through documents, receipts filed away, etc. You at least know when you were married, which may help you demonstrate the 10-year provision.

DEAR BRUCE: I am in search of a legitimate, ethical, "real" nonprofit debt consolidation and/or advice company.

There used to be actual help from credit unions, and professional organizations/unions that offered this type of service. But today, there is a myriad of for-profit companies, many of which claim they are nonprofit, but actually charge exorbitant fees, don't have the client's best interest at heart, and really don't help you. So far all I've found are companies that can do no better than what I can do myself. I have yet to sign up with any company for assistance because I haven't found a good one that will actually help me. Would you help refer any organizations and/or companies that are "for real"? — T.E., via e-mail

DEAR T.E.: You are correct in your observations that there are many of these organizations that should best be avoided. Some are nonprofit which would seem to indicate their authenticity, but this is not something that can be solely depended upon. While there may be several of these organizations that enjoy excellent reputations, the one that I have no reservation about recommending is Consumer Credit Counseling Service. They are nonprofit and have a long and justly earned reputation for integrity.

DEAR BRUCE: My 97-year-old father recently sold his house. After paying all his bills he is debt-free and has $100,000 remaining. He is very healthy and lives with me. He receives enough Social Security to live on. He has a good health insurance plan. He has some investments that yield small earnings and are directly deposited into his savings account, along with his Social Security. I had him put the $100,000 into short-term CDs paying 4 percent until we find a better place for the money. He has five children. All investments and CDs list his children by name as beneficiaries. He is concerned, as I am, about the state of the economy and is worried about putting his money into the stock market. What should he do with his $100,000? — M.C., via e-mail

DEAR M.C.: It appears to me that your dad has done well, is living comfortably and is fortunate enough to have you to live with. The other four children are very fortunate to have you carry this obligation. That having been observed, considering the volatility of today's world, my inclination would be to drop the $100,000 into a one-year CD with an FDIC-insured bank. No one's going to get rich over this. The $4,000 a year doesn't amount to much but his $100,000 would be secure, he would have that little bit of additional income and the peace of mind, which is important to him.

Send your questions to: Smart Money, P.O. Box 2095, Elfers, FL 34680. E-mail to: bruce@brucewilliams.com. Questions of general interest will be answered in future columns. Owing to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.

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