Social Security Q&A: Can I Get My Ex’s Social Security Instead of My Own?

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Welcome to a new Money Talks News feature, “Social Security Q&A.” You ask a Social Security question, and our guest expert provides the answer.

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you would like a personalized report detailing your optimal Social Security claiming strategy, click here. Check it out: It could result in receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime!

This week’s question is from Rebecca:

My question is about benefits for a surviving divorced spouse. I was married twice, once for 11 years and once for 15 years. I am not currently married. My first husband died at the age of 73, so he had been getting his Social Security for several years. My second husband died at the age of 53, so he had never filed on his Social Security. When I turn 66 next year in February 2019, can I file on either of my former husbands’ Social Security instead of my own?

Rebecca, you most certainly can claim survivor’s benefits on either of the two ex-husbands, since you were married to both of them for at least 10 years and you are not currently married. Since you are older than 60, even if you remarry in the future, you still qualify for survivor’s benefits. If you remarry, you could switch from survivor’s benefits to spousal benefits on your new husband’s record, if that was advantageous.

How to claim on your ex’s Social Security

The first thing you need to do is collect the documents to establish your divorces, and proof of each ex-husband’s death, among other things described in this Social Security Administration document. Next, contact the SSA to find out how much your survivor’s benefits are for each ex-husband. Then, you can claim against the ex-husband who provides you with the higher survivor’s benefit. If one or both of your ex-husbands remarried and other survivors are receiving benefits on an ex-husband’s records, you can still get your survivor’s benefits.

A strategy to increase your benefit

If you claim when you turn 66, you get the maximum survivor’s benefit. Nothing is gained from waiting past your full retirement age. However, if you claimed survivor’s benefits immediately, you would pay an early claiming penalty. Since your 66th birthday is only a few months from now, the penalty would amount to only about 3 percent of your maximum benefits. You could have claimed survivor’s benefits as early as age 60, but you could have paid a hefty early claiming penalty up to 30 percent of your maximum benefits.

Rebecca, depending on the size of your own benefits, you might benefit from claiming survivor’s benefits at 66 (or sooner), and then claiming your own benefits later (say, at age 70). For example, if your own benefits are $1,000 a month at age 66, then by claiming at age 70 you could get $1,320 a month.

Suppose your survivor’s benefits were less than $1,320 a month. Clearly, it would pay you to switch at age 70 from your survivor’s benefits to your own retirement benefits. If survivor’s benefits exceeded $1,320, you would simply continue with those benefits.

Hope this helps you with your decision.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter, just as you would with any email in your inbox. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. It’s free, only takes a few seconds, and will get you valuable information every day!

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. So, it’s better not to ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you.

About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. In 2009, I co-founded, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Got any words of wisdom you can offer on today’s question? Share your knowledge and experiences on our Facebook page. And if you find this information useful, please share it!

Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.

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