Social Security Spousal and Survivor Benefits

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Spousal and Survivor Benefits
When Social Security spousal and survivor benefits come up in conversation, most people consider their own Social Security benefits. Social Security also includes important benefits for spouses and survivors. If you’re married, divorced, or have children or parents as dependents, it’s important to know more about these Social Security benefit varieties.

In general, the Social Security spousal benefit allows a spouse to draw retirement benefits based on his or her husband or wife. In some instances, a divorced spouse may also claim Social Security benefits based on a former husband or wife’s Social Security earnings record. It may be possible for you to apply for spousal benefits online at SSA.gov. Call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 with questions about spousal and survivor benefits.

Social Security Spousal and Survivor Benefits

If you’re married and at least 62 years old, you’re entitled to claim a Social Security spousal benefit even if you haven’t worked outside of the home. A spouse’s decision to claim early retirement benefits will result in a lower benefit. According to SSA, the spousal benefit is reduced to approximately one-third of the primary beneficiary’s benefit in that case.

Deciding to wait until Full Retirement Age (FRA), age 66 (for people born 1943 – 1954) and age 67 (for people born in and after 1960), allows the spouse to maximize his or her Social Security benefits. At FRA, he or she may claim a retirement benefit that’s always 60 percent of the spouse’s Social Security benefit.

File-and-suspend options and other advanced claiming strategies were eliminated for most people at the start of 2016:

  • In the past, a spouse would file and suspect his or her Social Security benefit while the partner filed a “restricted application for spousal benefits” based upon the primary spouse’s earnings record.
  • By taking this approach, a spouse could receive a Social Security benefit for four years (as a spouse) while allowing his or her personal Social Security record to accumulate work credits and/or higher earnings until the age of 70.

At 70 years of age, the Social Security beneficiary could take the larger of the two Social Security retirement benefits. Of course, the spouse who requested suspension of benefits could accumulate Social Security earnings credits as well. People born before 1954 were allowed to continue the file-and-suspend strategy. However, it’s important to note that the spouse’s Social Security earnings used to calculate the spousal benefit must also draw Social Security benefits. It’s no longer possible to allow a spouse or dependent to draw benefits from the primary Social Security beneficiary’s record if that person’s benefits are currently suspended.

It’s important to stay up-to-date about Social Security. Elimination of the once popular file-and-suspend option changed the way many retirees used Social Security spousal benefits.

Social Security Benefits for Divorced Spouses

If you’re divorced, it’s possible to claim Social Security spousal benefits on an ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings record in some situations. To claim benefits:

  • You and the Social Security beneficiary were married for 10 years or more.
  • You didn’t remarry after divorcing the Social Security beneficiary on whose record you want to claim benefits.
  • You’re 62 years old or older.
  • Your former spouse is entitled to claim Social Security retirement benefits.
  • Your personal Social Security benefit is less than the ex-spouse’s benefit. Your claim to spousal benefits (50 percent of the beneficiary’s PIA) is higher than your personal Social Security entitlement.

If you remarried after divorcing the Social Security beneficiary, you can’t claim a spousal benefit on his or her earnings record unless the current marriage is annulled, your spouse dies, or ends in divorce.

Your former husband or wife must be entitled to Social Security benefits at the time you request Social Security benefits. However, your ex-spouse doesn’t need to draw benefits now or apply for them in order for Social Security to review your claim. You can’t apply for spousal benefits as a divorced spouse unless the divorce occurred at least two years ago.

The Social Security spousal benefit is always 50 percent of the former spouse’s Social Security benefit if claimed at your FRA. The benefit declines if you claim Social Security spousal benefits before reaching FRA.

Social Security Survivor Benefits

Social Security survivor benefits provide financial security to widows, widowers, and other surviving family members of Social Security beneficiaries. Survivors benefits are calculated on the greater of the surviving spouse’s personal work record or the Social Security benefit his or her deceased spouse received from Social Security.

Married couples should discuss survivors benefits as part of their Social Security retirement benefits claiming strategy:

  • The higher earner spouse may decide to delay claiming Social Security retirement benefits until FRA or later. If they predecease the spouse, he or she receives a survivor benefit based on a higher earnings record.
  • It’s possible for a current spouse (or former spouse in some instances) to receive a survivor benefit based on the Social Security beneficiary’s earnings record.
  • A widow or widower may receive survivor benefits at age 60 or later when the surviving spouse has already reached FRA. In that case, he or she receives 100 percent of the deceased beneficiary’s Social Security benefit. If he or she is between 60 and FRA, he or she receives 71.5 percent – 99 percent of the deceased spouse’s Social Security retirement benefit. If the surviving spouse is disabled and at least 50 -59 years old, he or she receives 71.5 percent of the deceased beneficiary’s benefit. If the surviving spouse cares for a dependent child of the deceased beneficiary, and the child is less than 16 years old, Social Security pays him or her 75 percent of the deceased beneficiary’s benefit.

Other family members of the deceased Social Security beneficiary may be eligible to claim survivor benefits:

  • A dependent child less than 18 years old (or 19 years old if he or she is enrolled in elementary or high school) or disabled may be eligible to claim 75 percent of his or her deceased parent’s Social Security benefit.
  • A dependent mother and/or father of the deceased beneficiary who are at least age 62 may be entitled to receive 82.5 percent of his or her Social Security benefits (one parent) and up to 75 percent each if two surviving parents were dependent on the worker’s income.

When an ex-spouse dies, his or her former wife or husband may be eligible for the Social Security survivor benefit. Eligibility includes:

  • Marriage to the Social Security beneficiary lasted at least a decade or more.
  • The surviving ex-spouse is currently unmarried. If he or she remarried, the ceremony took place after turning 60 years old.
  • If the surviving ex-spouse cares for a child of the deceased Social Security beneficiary, and the child is less than 16 years or disabled, Social Security waives the length of marriage requirement.

Social Security Spousal and Survivor Benefits

Social Security Spousal and Survivor benefits offer financial support to spouses and dependents of Social Security-eligible beneficiaries. If the Social Security beneficiary was the household’s primary or only wage earning, Social Security benefits can make it possible for spouses, families, and dependent parents to live a financially stable life.