Social Security & Medicare Questions: Claiming Widow's Benefits

Social Security & Medicare Questions: Claiming Widow’s Benefits

If My Ex Passes Away Will I Be Able To Claim Widow's Benefits?

Q: I'm 64 and in the process of divorce. My soon to be ex-husband who is 65 earns considerably more than I do. Neither of us has started Social Security yet. If he remarries will I still be able to receive widow's benefits when he passes away?


A: If your ex remarries, you can still claim divorced spouse widow's benefits, and get the same benefit as your ex's widow, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more. If your ex earned substantially more than you chances are a widow's benefit may be higher than your own retirement benefit. But, if your ex is still fairly young and in good health, you still need a plan to cover your retirement income during the period before he dies.

You may qualify for a divorced spouse benefit based on your ex's account, as long as you have not remarried, but you will only receive half of the benefit that your ex- spouse is entitled to. If you take the benefit before you are at your full retirement age it would be reduced. And earnings from work prior to your full retirement age over the annual exempt amount can also reduce what you receive. A better plan may be to delay starting your own benefit and continuing to work.

After reaching your full retirement age, which in your case is age 66, your benefit will grow 8% per year until age 70 due to the delayed retirement credit. For example say you are due to receive $1,000 at your full retirement age of 66. If you were to start your own retirement benefit at 64, Social Security would reduce your monthly payment to $866 to make up for the extra years of receiving benefits. If you lived to age 92 you would be giving up about $72,121 in potential Social Security income had you waited until age 70 to start benefits! In addition, earnings in excess of the exempt amount will reduce the amount of benefits you receive until you reach full retirement age.

On the other hand, if you wait until full retirement age, you would receive your $1,000 per month and by age 92 you would have about $24,960 more in lifetime retirement income. At your full retirement age you can collect benefits and still earn as much as you want without a reduction in benefits.

If you delay benefits until age 70 when they stop growing, your starting benefit would be about $1,360 vs. $1,000. If you live to age 92 you would receive $47,160 more over the course of your retirement and your final monthly benefit at age 92 would be $2,444. If your ex passes away before you, then you could file a claim for widow's benefits should it be higher than your own.