Can I claim survivor benefits based on my ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits?

If your divorced spouse has passed away, you may be eligible to collect survivor benefits as a widow / widower if:

  • You are over the age of 60.
  • The marriage lasted more than 10 years.
  • You are not now remarried.

OR

  • You have remarried, but after the age of 60

If you remarried before the age of 60, and are still married, you cannot collect survivor benefits from a former spouse.

If you remarried before the age of 60 but that marriage has now ended, you may collect survivor benefits from a deceased ex-spouse.

Can I claim retirement benefits based on my ex-spouse’s Social Security benefits?

Depending on the length of your marriage and whether you have remarried, you may be able to collect benefits based on your divorced spouse’s Social Security benefits. Collecting these benefits has no effect on your former spouse’s benefits.

In order to collect benefits from a divorced spouse:

  • You and your ex-spouse must both be over the age of 62.
  • Your marriage must have lasted 10 years or more.
  • You must have not remarried.

If your divorced spouse has not yet applied for benefits, you can still receive benefits based on his or her record if you have been divorced for more than two years.

How will my spouse’s survivor benefits work?

Generally, if a surviving spouse is over the age of 60, he or she can begin to receive survivor benefits. If the surviving spouse is at full retirement age, his or her benefit is equal to what the deceased’s Social Security benefit was. If the surviving spouse is under full retirement age, the amount of the survivor benefit is reduced.

Important Note: There are a few exceptions where survivor benefits can begin under age 60, including:

• A surviving spouse caring for children under the age of 18 or who has children who are 18-19 years old who are full-time students up to grade 12, subject to family maximums.

• A surviving spouse caring for disabled children 18 years of age or older.

Assuming a full retirement age of 66 and a deceased spouse benefit of $24,000

AGEPERCENTAGE OF SPOUSE’S BENEFITSANNUAL BENEFIT
6071.50%$17,160.00
6176.30%$18,312.00
6281.00%$19,440.00
6385.80%$20,592.00
6490.50%$21,720.00
6595.30%$22,872.00
66100.00%$24,000.00

Assuming a full retirement age of 67 and a deceased spouse benefit of $24,000

AGEPERCENTAGE OF SPOUSE’S BENEFITSANNUAL BENEFIT
6071.50%$17,160.00
6175.60%$18,144.00
6279.60%$19,104.00
6383.70%$20,088.00
6487.80%$21,072.00
6591.90%$22,056.00
6695.90%$23,016.00
67100.00%$24,000.00

When can my spouse begin collecting a spousal benefit?

For your spouse to be eligible for Social Security spousal benefits, you must have applied for Social Security benefits and your spouse must be at least 62. If your spouse begins to collect spousal benefits before he or she has reached full retirement age, he or she will not be eligible for the maximum 50% spousal benefit.

How do I calculate my spouse’s benefit?

When your spouse applies for Social Security benefits, he or she will be eligible for the higher of two different amounts:

His or her own benefit or up to 50% of your benefit assuming you have applied for Social Security benefits.

If your spouse’s Social Security is based on his or her own work history, and the benefit is more than 50% of yours, your spouse will not be eligible for a spousal benefit.

Will I get a cost-of-living adjustment every year?

Your Social Security payments are not guaranteed to have a cost-of-living adjustment each year. To determine if a COLA will apply, the Social Security Administration, in the 3rd quarter of the year, looks at what percentage increase, an economic indicator known as the CPI-W* has had since the 3rd quarter of the previous year. Whatever percentage that indicator has increased will be applied to Social Security benefits for the next calendar year.

If there is no increase, there can be no COLA. If there is a percentage decrease in that indicator there is no subsequent reduction in Social Security benefits.

Over the last 10 years, there have been eight cost of living adjustments.

YEARCOST-OF-LIVING ADJUSTMENT
20042.10%
20052.70%
20064.10%
20073.30%
20082.30%
20095.80%
20100%
20110%
20123.60%

Are my Social Security benefits taxable?

Maybe, depending on the amount of other income you received in the year. If you are single, determine whether your benefits are taxable, by adding the following items together:

ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME

+ NONTAXABLE INTEREST
+ ½ YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
If that value is: Between $25,000 and $34,000, up to 50% of your Social Security benefit is taxable.
Above $34,000, up to 85% of your Social Security benefit is taxable.

If you are married and filing a joint tax return, to determine whether your benefits are taxable, by adding the following items together:

ADJUSTED GROSS INCOME

+ NONTAXABLE INTEREST
+ ½ OF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS
+ ½ OF YOUR SPOUSE’S SOCIAL SECURITY BENEFITS

If that value is: Between $32,000 and $44,000, up to 50% of you and your spouse’s Social Security benefit is taxable.
Above $44,000, up to 85% of you and your spouse’s Social Security benefit is taxable.

What happens if I take my Social Security benefits while I am still working?

It depends on your age. If you are at or above your full retirement age, working will not reduce your Social Security benefit. If you are under your full retirement age, $1 of benefits is reduced for every $2 of wages you earn above $15,120. In the year in which you reach your full retirement age, from January 1st up until your birthday, $1 of your benefit is reduced for every $3 you earn above $40,080.

These limits apply to your wages only and do not count withdrawals from retirement accounts, dividends, interest, or other unearned income. The reduction also only applies to your own wages – it does not count your spouse’s wages. If you have reached your full retirement age, but your spouse has not, the earnings limit will not apply to your benefits.

What happens if I delay taking my Social Security benefits until after I reach full retirement age?

From your full retirement age until you reach age 70, for every year you delay taking your Social Security benefits, your benefits will increase by 8%. After age 70, while it is possible to delay taking your benefits, the 8% increase does not continue. This means there is no incentive to delay taking benefits after age 70.

Can I start taking my Social Security retirement benefits before I reach my full retirement age?

Yes, you can receive Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. However, if you begin to receive benefits before you reach full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced. The amount of the reduction depends on the age when you begin receiving benefits and your full retirement age. It is important to note that the amount you receive when you first begin taking benefits sets the base for the amount you will receive for the rest of your life, though you would still receive annual cost-of-living adjustments and, depending on your work history, may receive higher benefits if you continue to work.

Early Social Security Benefits (assuming a full retirement age of 66 and a $24,000 annual benefit)

AGEPERCENTAGE OF FULL RETIREMENT BENEFITANNUAL BENEFIT
6275.00%$18,000.00
6380.00%$19,200.00
6486.66%$20,798.40
6593.33%$22,399.20
66100.00%$24,000.00

Early Social Security Benefits (assuming a full retirement age of 67 and a $24,000 annual benefit)

AGEPERCENTAGE OF FULL RETIREMENT BENEFITANNUAL BENEFIT
6270.00%$16,800.00
6375.00%$18,000.00
6480.00%$19,200.00
6586.66%$20,798.40
6693.33%$22,399.20
67100.00%$24,000.00

What is my full retirement age?

Full retirement age is the age at which you can begin to collect full Social Security retirement benefits without any reductions. This age is determined by the year you were born.

YEAR BORNFULL RETIREMENT AGE
1943 – 195466
195566 and 2 months
195666 and 4 months
195766 and 6 months
195866 and 8 months
195966 and 10 months
1960 and after67