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Ask the Expert: Social Security payments when an ex dies

People who are divorced can sometimes collect Social

People who are divorced can sometimes collect Social Security based on a former spouse’s work record. Credit: iStock

My ex-wife and I were married for 14 years. I'm 51 and she's 46. She always earned significantly more than I do. I never remarried. In the event of her passing due to illness, am I in jeopardy of not getting Social Security based on her income when I'm 65?


Not necessarily. But your ex-wife doesn't have to worry about it. Any future payments you may receive based on her income will have no impact on the size of her own Social Security benefit, or on the benefit entitlements of her current or future husband.

You can claim Social Security based on a former spouse's record if your marriage lasted at least 10 years; you didn't remarry before age 60; and your benefit based on your former spouse's record is more than the amount you'd collect based on your own Social Security record. (You can only receive the larger of the two, not both.)

If you meet all three conditions, you're eligible for a spousal benefit based on her record during your ex-wife's lifetime, and a survivor's benefit based on her record after her death. But you can't claim the spousal benefit until you and she are both at least 62 years old. When you're 62, your spousal benefit would be an amount equal to 35 percent of her benefit. You must be at least 60 years old to claim a survivor's benefit; and at that age, you'd receive 71.5 percent of her benefit. To collect the maximum amounts -- a 50 percent spousal benefit or a 100 percent survivor benefit -- you'd have to postpone your applications until you're 67. That's full retirement age for people who were born in 1962 or later.

The bottom line People who are divorced can sometimes collect Social Security based on a former spouse's work record.

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TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.

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