Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.
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Today’s question comes from Lori:
“I claimed Social Security three years ago under my ex-husband’s benefits. I was told when I applied at my local Social Security office that upon his death that I would get an additional benefit. Will Social Security inform me of this should it occur? If not, how will I know, and will I need to apply for this additional benefit? “
Sometimes, the burden is on you
Lori, you ask an important question since many people (usually women) find themselves in a similar situation.
You were married for at least 10 years and are not currently married to someone else. Moreover, you stand to increase your Social Security benefits when your ex-spouse dies by claiming a survivor’s benefit on his or her record.
As with many people in your situation, you are no longer in contact with your ex-spouse, so you are uncertain as to when to apply for benefits.
Will the Social Security Administration notify you of the death of your ex-spouse? In your case, the answer is “yes.” But in many other circumstances, the opposite is true.
You are presently receiving benefits on your ex-husband’s record. Assuming he dies before you, the SSA will let you know when he has died because your spousal benefit will stop. At that point, you can apply for survivor’s benefits.
Suppose your ex-husband dies in June, and you are notified in July that your ex-spousal benefits have ended. If you apply immediately for survivor’s benefits, you can request that your survivor’s benefits begin in August (with the actual payment made a month later). If your application takes several weeks to process, you will receive a retroactive payment for the months that you should have been paid.
It is a different story, however, if you are not receiving ex-spousal benefits. In that case, the SSA does not notify you of your ex-spouse’s death, even though you are now eligible for survivor’s benefits. The burden would be on you to find out about your ex’s death. The easiest way to find out about his death is to contact the SSA every few months and ask: “Is my ex-husband still alive?”
If you have reached your full retirement age, you can request retroactive payments for up to six months. So, you do not stand to lose anything by checking with the SSA every six months.
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I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.
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.