Social Security for Former Spouses

Social Security for SpousesSocial Security provides some benefits for spouses, as long as certain conditions are met. This also applies to former spouses, whether through divorce or death (or maybe both!).

Social Security benefits are based on the amount of money a person made in their lifetime—the more money they made over their lifetime, the more the benefit is. There is also a survivor’s benefit for widows and widowers and often a one-time death benefit.

There are many rules and requirements for receiving benefits. A Social Security specialist needs to be consulted (especially in the case of former spouses), but here is some general information on spousal benefits.

If You are a Former Spouse Because of Divorce

You can receive your former spouse’s benefits if you meet the following requirements:

  • You were married to them at least 10 years
  • You are over 62 years of age
  • You are not married
  • Your social security benefits are less than what your spouse would receive

You can also apply for your ex-spouse’s social security benefits even if they have not, but are eligible to. You must have been divorced at least two years in this situation, however.

If you are applying for your ex’s benefits, the Social Security Administration will examine your situation to see if you qualify for any of them. If so, they will then see whose benefit is higher and you will be given some choices. These choices might include a combo of benefits, a choice of whose benefit to use now, or the choice to delay some benefits till a later date. This all depends on your specific scenario. Restrictions on the amount of the benefit, like current income (if working), apply to a spouse’s benefit too.

If You are a Former Spouse Because of Death

You only need to have been married to someone for nine months to get the widow or widower’s social security benefit as long as you were still married when they died. Other restrictions might apply though—like your wage earnings or any disabilities you might have.

In addition, some circumstances warrant getting benefits before nine months of marriage. A short list of those circumstances includes having children, a violent accidental death, a previous marriage to the same individual, etc. The official list is here.

And, even if your were divorced before their death, you can still receive survivor benefits like you were a current widow or widower as long as you had been married at least ten years. You also must not have been married again before age 60 (or age 50 if disabled). If you were married after age 60, you usually still qualify.

Meeting with the Social Security Administration promptly is key because most of the time the benefits are paid from the date of notification of death, not the date of death. Make sure that you bring some key information with you like death certificates, social security numbers, W2s, divorce and marriage decrees, etc. Find the entire list of things to bring here, where the Social Security website discusses Survivor’s benefits.

Here is a link to the Social Security Administration’s Retirement Planner. It is a great place for spouses of all types to start looking for how to claim the benefits someone else earned.

SmithLaw hopes that this post helps answers questions many former spouses have about social security benefits and directs you in the right places to find out more information. These types of benefits are important to consider in your retirement and estate planning. Make sure that you know what to expect from social security when you retire.

Image credit: 401K

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