Will I Get My Ex-Husband’s Social Security When He Dies?

Divorced senior couple
Photo by Syda Productions / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.

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!

Today’s question comes from Scarlett:

“I am drawing a small amount of Social Security on my ex-husband. He is remarried. When he passes away, will I get his full Social Security?”

2 factors affect what you get

Scarlett: If you are already drawing a small amount from your ex-husband’s Social Security, you should be eligible to receive a survivor benefit when he passes away. As long as a divorced spouse does not remarry before the age of 60 (50 if disabled), he or she is treated as a spouse and will receive spousal and survivor benefits.

The determination of how much a survivor will receive is calculated by looking at two things. First, under most circumstances, the amount that a survivor receives is based upon the benefit that the deceased partner is receiving.

If the deceased did not claim a benefit until after full retirement age (FRA), then the survivor benefit will be higher, since the survivor benefit will equal the higher benefit the deceased partner received from delayed claiming.

If the deceased partner was older than their FRA and had never claimed, then the survivor benefit will be based on the benefit that the deceased partner would have received if claimed at the time of death.

If the deceased partner claimed benefits or died before reaching FRA, a somewhat different set of rules applies. As long as the deceased partner’s benefit is greater than 82.5% of his or her primary insurance amount (PIA) — the amount that would be received if claimed at FRA — the same rule applies: The survivor benefit would be based on the benefit the deceased partner was receiving or the amount that he or she would have received if claimed at the time of death.

If the deceased partner was receiving less than 82.5% of his or her PIA, then the basis for the survivor benefit will be 82.5% of the PIA.

For example, let’s suppose that the deceased partner had an FRA of 66, but claimed at 62. The benefit in this case would be reduced to 75% of his or her PIA. The survivor benefit would be based on 82.5% of the PIA, not 75%.

Secondly, the actual benefit that a survivor receives will depend on when he or she claims the survivor benefit. A survivor can claim a benefit as early as age 60, but the benefit will be reduced if benefits are claimed before FRA.

If the survivor claims at age 60, the benefit will be 71.5% of the benefit that would be received if claimed at the FRA. Each year claiming is delayed, the benefit increases up to the FRA. Note that the FRA can vary between 66 and 67, and the reductions for early claiming of the survivor benefit will be somewhat different depending on the FRA. The FRA is determined by the year of birth.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can submit a question for the “Social Security Q&A” series for free. Just hit “reply” to the Money Talks News newsletter and email your question. (If you don’t already receive the newsletter, you can sign up for free, too: Click here, and the sign-up box will pop up.)

You also can find all past answers from this series on the “Social Security Q&A” webpage.

About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. Presently, I am teaching at Gallaudet University.

In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

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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