Q&A: Two husbands. Which benefit?

Dear Liz: I am 66 and recently widowed after a five-year marriage. I was previously married and divorced after more than 20 years. I paid into Social Security as a professional for 20 years. How do I determine how to file for Social Security benefits? Should I just file for my benefits? Should I wait until I am over 70? Should I file for spousal benefits and, if so, for which husband?

Answer: Let’s take that last question first. You’re only eligible for spousal or divorced spousal benefits if the worker on whose record you’d be claiming is still alive. Spousal benefits can be up to half what the worker would get at the worker’s full retirement age. If the worker has died, by contrast, you could be eligible for survivor benefits, which can be up to 100% of the worker’s benefit.

So you may be eligible for three different types of benefits: your own retirement benefit, a divorced spousal benefit based on your ex’s record (because you were married at least 10 years) and a survivor benefit based on your late husband’s record (because you were married for at least nine months at the time of his death). Normally, you lose the ability to claim divorced spousal benefits when you remarry, unless the second marriage ends in divorce, annulment or death, as yours did.

Which one to claim and when will depend on the details of your situation. You can call Social Security at (800) 772-1213 to get estimates of what you’d get on each record. Consider using a paid service such as Social Security Solutions or Maximize My Social Security to help you figure out the best strategy for claiming benefits.

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Comments

  1. Francis Xavier Bergmeister says

    Liz, your wrote “Let’s take that last question first. You’re only eligible for spousal or divorced spousal benefits if the worker on whose record you’d be claiming is still alive.”
    Okay…what happens if the divorced spouse gets benefits from a divorced spouse who is still alive. What happens when that divorced spouse dies? What is the impact to the divorced spouse who is receiving the benefits? Thank you, FX