There Are Several Ways The Surviving Spouse May Be Able To Collect Benefits From Social Security It Gets A Little Complicated
By Bethany K. Laurence, Attorney
When the primary breadwinner of a household dies, the surviving family members may be left without sufficient resources, especially if the deceased husband or wife didn’t have life insurance. Fortunately, the surviving spouse of a deceased disabled worker is often eligible to collect what the Social Security Administration calls a survivors benefit.
To be eligible for benefits based on the record of a deceased husband or wife, the spouses must have been married to each other for at least a year. In addition, the deceased spouse must have earned sufficient Social Security credits to be entitled to Social Security disability insurance or Social Security retirement benefits. This article focuses on deceased spouses who were entitled to disability benefits the rules differ a bit when a surviving spouse collects a benefit based on the deceased husband or wife’s retirement benefits.
A surviving divorced spouse that is, a spouse who divorces a husband or wife before the husband or wife dies is also entitled to a survivors benefit in some circumstances.
Dear Penny: Can I Stop My Ex
- Robin HartillThe Penny Hoarder
I was married 22 years. The marriage ended in 2002. When my ex-wife retires, will I be able to collect half of her Social Security? If so, how do I go about that? I am 61 she is 62 now.
Also, would she be able to come after half of my Social Security? How can I prevent the latter?
If your ex-wife earned more than you, shed almost certainly get more money by taking her own Social Security. But even if you made more money, theres no reason to worry that your ex could come after your Social Security. Her benefit has zero impact on your benefit, and vice-versa.
There seems to be a misconception at the heart of your question which is the idea that when you claim your exs Social Security, youre somehow taking money from them. Thats simply not true.
Social Security doesnt have a pot of money set aside for you. Instead, you pay into the Social Security trust through payroll taxes. When you become eligible to start collecting, your benefits are calculated based on how much you paid in. Alternatively, if youre married or divorced, you may qualify for spousal benefits. In that case, Social Security bases your benefit on your current or former spouses earnings instead of your own.
Now to answer your question: It sounds like youd qualify for your ex-wifes benefits, as long as youre not currently married. Your marriage lasted for 10 years and youve been divorced for more than two years, as Social Security requires.
Your Social Security Number Is The Key
Originally, your Social Security number was a way for the government to track your earnings and pay you retirement benefits. But over the years, it has become much more than that. It is the key to a lot of your personal information. With your name and SSN, an identity thief could open new credit and bank accounts, rent an apartment, or even get a job.
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How Can I Find My Social Security Number Online
You will need to have a My Social Security account to access your SSN online. If you have not already signed up for an account, then you will not be able to get one until you find your number using another method. Knowing your SSN is required to sign up for an account, but once you have the account, you can access it using your user name and password.
California Law Limits The Public Display Of Social Security Numbers
A California law bars organizations from publicly displaying SSNs2. The law prohibits:
- Printing SSNs on ID cards or badges
- Printing SSNs on documents mailed to customers, unless the law requires it or the document is a form or application
- Printing SSNs on postcards or any other mailer where its visible without opening an envelope
- Avoiding legal requirements by encoding or embedding SSNs in cards or documents, such as using a bar code, chip, or magnetic strip
- Requiring people to send SSNs over the Internet, unless the connection is secure or the number is encrypted
- Requiring people to use an SSN to log onto a web site, unless a password is also used
- The law applies to businesses, government, and other entities.
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How To Protect Your Ssn
Since a lost or stolen SSN number can cause so much damage to your finances, you should always do everything possible to protect it. First, you should keep your Social Security card in a safe place and only carry it with you when absolutely necessary. Do not keep it in your wallet and carry it all the time because that greatly increases the odds that it will be lost. Also, be very mindful of phishing scams so that you do not inadvertently give your information to a thief.
Keep a close eye on your credit report. If you notice anything suspicious or see accounts listed that you did not open, then you should take immediate action. Go ahead and place a fraud alert with the credit bureaus Experian, Equifax, and Transunion. You might even consider placing a freeze on your SSN so that no one has access to your credit file. Depending on the severity of the situation, you might consider seeking legal advice for the proper way to handle the situation.
Social Security Benefits For Spouses And Children
A little-known feature of the Social Security system is that in addition to paying retirement benefits for the retired worker, it may provide benefits to the worker’s spouse, an ex-spouse if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, and dependent children and grandchildren, depending on the circumstances. Moreover, these benefits can be paid all at the same time.
Your spouse is entitled to an amount equal to one-half of your full primary insurance amount . In order to receive this benefit, your spouse must be at least 62 years old or caring for your child entitled to receive benefits on your work record who is younger than 16 or disabled. Also, you must be receiving Social Security retirement benefits in order for your spouse to receive them as well.
It may be that your spouse could receive more from Social Security based on her own earnings record than through your spousal benefit. If this is the case, the Social Security Administration automatically provides your spouse the larger benefit.
For more information on spousal benefits, .
Children and even grandchildren who are unmarried and dependent upon you for their support are eligible for benefits. To be eligible, the child must be under age 18, under age 19 but still in elementary school or high school, or over age 18 but have become mentally or physically disabled prior to age 22.
Benefits for a Divorced Spouse
For more information on benefits for divorced spouses, .
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How Spousal Benefits Are Calculated
Spousal benefits are based on how much the other spouse would receive if that person began collecting benefits at the full or “normal” retirement age.
The Social Security Administration has an online calculator that can show you what percentage of your spouse’s benefits you will be eligible for depending on your own age when you start receiving benefits.
The short answer to the calculation is this: You’re eligible for half of your spouse’s benefit amount as long as you wait until your full retirement age to apply. The earlier you file, the less you’ll get.
How Can I Switch From My Social Security Benefit To A Spousal Benefit
Say you start collecting Social Security benefits at age 62 based on your own work history. Your spouse keeps working and delays filing until age 70. If your spousal entitlement is higher, you can switch to that. The spouse will get the maximum amount while you’ll get 50% of the amount the spouse would have received at full retirement age.
To monitor your benefits or change them, you can create an account on the Social Security site. It contains a wealth of information and it allows you to make some changes online, although others require a phone call.
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Mother’s Or Father’s Benefit
When an insured worker becomes disabled or dies while collecting SSDI, a spouse can get benefits if the spouse cares for at least one child of the disabled worker who is under age 16 or disabled . These benefits are sometimes known as “mother’s or father’s benefits.” In the case of a divorced spouse, the ten-year rule doesn’t apply for mother’s or father’s benefits.
If the spouse continues to care for a child after age 16 and the child is disabled, the spouse may be eligible to continue to receive Social Security payments. Note: If you are caring for a disabled child over age 22, the disability must have occurred before age 22. For more information on eligibility, see our article on mother’s and father’s benefits.
Note that if you are collecting benefits based on caring for a child under 16, and you work at the same time, Social Security will take away some of your benefits if you make over a certain amount of earned income for the year. For the year 2021, this limit is $18,960 . If you earn over this limit, your spousal benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 you earn over the limit. For high earners, this means the benefit will disappear.
Spousal Benefits For Divorced Spouses
If you’re divorced, you may be eligible for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work record. The rules are much the same, plus:
- Your marriage must have lasted for at least 10 years.
- You must currently be unmarried.
If your former spouse hasn’t filed for benefits yet, you can still file for spousal benefits if you have been divorced for at least two years.
If your ex-spouse is still living, in most cases you must be at least 62 years old and your spouse must be old enough to qualify for benefits.
If your ex-spouse has died, your benefits are similar to those of a widow or widower.
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Social Security And You: More Questions From Divorced Women
Just two weeks ago, I wrote a column answering questions from divorced women. Obviously, I left a lot of questions unanswered because my email inbox has been flooded with inquiries about Social Security benefits for divorcees.
Q: I am about to turn 70. When I was 66, I filed for wifes benefits on my ex-husbands Social Security record. Someone told me that I must sign up for my own Social Security when I reach 70. This cant be right. I am getting $1,270 on my husbands account. I worked just barely over 10 years early in my life and the last time I checked, my own Social Security check was about $110. Why should I sign up for my own Social Security when it is so much less?
A: My hunch is you are already getting your own retirement benefits and dont know it. When you were 66 and thought you were applying for just divorced wifes benefits, I will bet they actually had you file for both your own and your husbands Social Security benefits. The rules generally say that you must apply for your own benefits first and then at the same time, file for any spousal benefits you are due. In other words, I think you are getting $110 from your own Social Security account and then another $1,160 off your husbands record to take you up to the $1,270 rate you are getting. You can check this out by looking at your Medicare card. If it has your Social Security number on it followed by the letter A, that means you are getting Social Security retirement benefits.
What Is A Social Security Number
A social security number is a nine-digit identification number given to U.S. citizens, permanent residents, and non-immigrant working residents. Social Security numbers are needed to work in the United States, to collect Social Security benefits, and to be eligible for other social services.
There are three different types of social security cards:
1. The most common type of social security card has the persons name and social security number. This type is typically given to U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
2. The second is designated for temporary workers or those with non-immigrant status. They are valid for employment with DHS authorization and can be used to satisfy I-9 eligibility requirements.
3. The last type is issued only for tax purposes and cannot be used with the I-9 form or for employment.
An I-9 Form is a government form used to verify an employee’s eligibility to work in the United States.
Additional Document Required For International Students And Foreign Exchange Visitors
International Students or Foreign Exchange visitors are able to work on a part-time basis and must bring additional documentation to prove their status. For J Visas, the DS-2019 Certificate of Eligibility for Exchange Visitor Status is required.
For international students, the most recent I-20 Certificate of Eligibility for Non-immigrant Student Status is required.
Original documents are required to obtain a social security card. Photocopies and notarized copies will be rejected.
The information contained in this article is not legal advice and is not a substitute for such advice. State and federal laws change frequently, and the information in this article may not reflect your own states laws or the most recent changes to the law.
How Can You Find A Spouses Social Security Number
Q. When I went to apply for Social Security benefits, I was asked for my husbands Social Security number. I dont have it. How can I get it?
A. Your local Social Security office should be able to help you.
You should bring with you a non-expired ID, your birth certificate, your marriage certificate and proof of termination of the marriage, whether through divorce or death, Social Security said. So that means you should bring your husbands death certificate, and if youre divorced, proof of the divorce.
You should also bring your bank account information for direct deposit of any benefits, he said.
You can contact Social Security at 772-1213 or find your local office here.
Email your questions to .
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How To Find A Social Security Number Of A Dead Relative
A Social Security number is widely used to prove one’s identity, so in the event a relative has passed away, the number can usually be found quite quickly in the deceased’s personal papers. If you don’t have access to the deceased’s personal belongings, you can get the correct Social Security number from the Social Security Administration, or SSA.
What Is The Maximum Spousal Social Security Benefit
The maximum spousal benefit is 50% of the amount that the spouse is eligible to receive at full retirement age. That’s a cap, by the way. If your spouse delays retiring until 70, the spouse gets more but you don’t.
Survivors may receive up to 100% of the deceased person’s Social Security amount. There’s a complicated formula for families in which more than one dependant is eligible for benefits. It caps the maximum.
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Your Social Security Decision Affects Your Retirement Income Plan
It’s important to develop a strategy for when you will claim your Social Security benefit and on whose wage record. Your decision can make a significant difference in your overall retirement income plan. Knowing that you may have a larger Social Security benefit coming from your ex-spouse could make a difference in your cash flow throughout retirement.
Take the time to create your retirement income plan with a Fidelity representative and see how your Social Security benefits as an ex-spouse could make a difference.
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Your benefit would be even less than half if you claim Social Security early. If you started collecting at 62, as soon as youre eligible, youd only receive 32.5% of your ex-wifes full benefit. You also cant earn 8% delayed retirement credits each year should you hold out past full retirement age. Your benefit would cap out at 50% of your exs primary insurance amount.
Fortunately, you dont need to make this into a guessing game. When you apply for Social Security, you can ask them to calculate both your retirement benefit and your spousal benefit. Youll get whichever benefit is more. You can also use Social Securitys online calculators to estimate how much youd get from retirement benefits vs. spousal benefits.
When its time to apply, Social Security will need to locate your ex-wifes record. This process will be easier if you still have her Social Security number. Otherwise, you may need to provide her date of birth, where she was born, and the names of her parents. Also be prepared to provide a copy of your marriage certificate and divorce decree.
The bottom line here is that your exs Social Security doesnt deserve to occupy any real estate in your brain. Focus on getting the maximum benefit for yourself, whether its through your own benefit or your exs.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to .
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