Can you file for Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s record? Absolutely! The best part? They’ll never know. So laugh your devious laugh and shake your fist in the air…I’m going to show you how.
It’s well documented that divorce will often have a financial impact of some type for both parties. But what it may not impact is your ability to file for Social Security on your ex-spouse’s record. All you need to do is meet the qualifications.
Here is a basic version of the rules:
-Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years.
-You must be 62 or older (60 if they are deceased).
That’s it. But if we stop there, we’re only telling part of the story about how Social Security and divorce cases work.
What About if Your Ex-Spouse Hasn’t Filed?
The spousal benefit rules for married individuals require the higher earning spouse to file first before a spousal benefit can be paid to a lower earning spouse.
That’s not how it works with divorce cases. You can collect on your ex-spouse’s record even if he or she hasn’t applied for benefits; however, you must have been divorced for at least two years and your ex-spouse must be eligible for benefits.
Typically this means that they must be at least 62 years old.
What About Multiple Marriages?
As long as all marriages have ended, and you’ve met the length of marriage rules, you can choose the highest benefit from any of your ex-spouses.
What About if Your Ex-Spouse is Deceased?
Even better! No…not because they are dead, but now you may be able to collect a survivor benefit. If they were the higher income earner, your benefit would be equal to his/her full benefit minus any reduction for your age.
Also, you can file for a survivor benefit as early as age 60. But be warned, if you remarry prior to age 60, you lose the right to claim on an ex-spouse’s record — at least until the subsequent marriage(s) end in death or divorce.
If you remarry after age 60, you are eligible to receive benefits based on the highest of your benefit, your current spouse’s benefit, or your deceased spouse’s survivor benefit.
A Special Strategy That Could Yield Higher Benefits
But don’t grab your keys and head off to your local Social Security office just yet. Just because you can file on your ex-spouse’s benefit doesn’t mean that you should. At least, know your options about some filing strategies that could drastically increase the amount of cash flow and lifetime benefits you could receive.
If you have met the length of marriage rules, and don’t exceed the income limitation, you could file a restricted appliction for a survivor benefit as early as age 60 and switch back to your own benefit at full retirement age or later.
For example, assume that Karen has her own Social Security benefit available of $2,000 at her full retirement age of 67. Currently she’s 62 and is also eligible for a survivors benefit of $1,300 today.
She could file for only the survivors benefit and let her benefit increase with delayed retirement credits. At her age 70, she could switch back to her own benefit which would have grown to $2,480 (not including cost of living adjustments!).
This strateguy is only availble for those eligible for a survivors benefit and can help you reap big rewards in attaining more retirement cash flow.
Dont Expect the SSA to Tell You This
So where do you turn for help? First, don’t expect the Social Security Administration to look at all of your prior marriages and make a determination about which eligible benefit is best for you. They make it pretty clear…proving that there are eligible benefits from prior marriages is the responsibility of the claimant.
Unless individuals know the rules, it’s pretty easy (and common!) to miss benefits from a prior marriage. Adding to this is that once you are divorced, the Social Security Administration stops sharing information about your ex-spouse’s benefit amount with you. That’s great for privacy, but bad for obtaining information and planning. However, if you ask them specific questions, they will answer. See their publication on Social Security and Divorce here.
At least now you know that you need to dig into the rules and figure out your options before you make a filing mistake.
Are you concerned you may be missing out on benefits?
If you still have questions, you could leave a comment below, but what may be an even greater help is to join my FREE Facebook members group. It’s very active and has some really smart people who love to answer any questions you may have about Social Security. From time to time I’ll even drop in to add my thoughts, too.
Also, if you haven’t already, you should join the 100,000+ subscribers on my YouTube channel! For visual learners (as most of us are), this is where I break down the complex rules and help you figure out how to use them to your advantage.
One last thing… be sure to get your FREE copy of my Social Security Cheat Sheet. This handy guide takes all of the most important rules from the massive Social Security website and condenses it all down to just ONE PAGE!