Financial Planner- Understanding Spousal Social Security Benefits


It can be confusing trying to figure out how Social Security benefits work for divorced spouses or what happens when a spouse dies.

The are some special rules for divorced spouses:

  • Divorced–spousebenefits are available to any and all ex–spouses of a worker, in cases where themarriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • The benefits paid toone ex–spouse do not affect those paid to the other ex–spouses or to the workerthemselves.
  • The worker on whoserecord the divorced–spouse benefits are based will not be notified that theirex–spouse has applied for benefits.
  • If the personreceiving divorced–spouse benefits remarries, the benefits stop. However, they may be eligible for spousalbenefits based on the new spouse's work record.

If aspouse dies, the survivor will become eligible for survivor benefits, as longas they were married at least nine months (except in case of accident).

The survivor benefit is equal to 100 percent of thedeceased spouses benefit. However, if thesurvivor's benefit is higher, that's the one they will receive.

If a husband and wife are already receiving Social Securitybenefits and are past FRA, the survivor would notify SSA that the other has diedand they would switch her over to the survivor benefit if it is higher, and the other benefit would stop.

If the survivor has not yet started receiving Social Security when the spousedies, he/she may apply for survivor benefits as early as age 60. The benefits would be reduced, so it may bewise to wait until FRA, depending on other factors.

Combing these scenarios, survivorbenefits for divorced spouses are the same as for widows, as long as themarriage lasted at least 10 years. Thesame benefit formulas, age requirements, and actuarial reductions apply.

There are many quirks and exceptions in these rules, so besure to check with a financial planner, or contact the localSocial Security office for help.