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Claiming Social Security benefits from former spouse

Social Security survivor benefits for spouses aren't subject

Social Security survivor benefits for spouses aren't subject to the same rules as benefits based on a living person's work record. Credit: iStock

My first marriage lasted 27 years and ended in divorce in 2001. I remarried at 57. My second wife died three years later. I'm currently unmarried. I want to postpone taking my own Social Security benefit. When I retire at 62, can I claim a benefit based on my first spouse's work record?

 

Yes, if she's at least 62. But if you do it before you turn 66, you won't be able to postpone your own benefit.

Remarrying at 57 only made you ineligible for benefits based on your ex-wife's record for the duration of your second marriage, says Linda Lauria, a Social Security Administration spokeswoman. If you're now unmarried, you could claim either a widower's benefit based on your late second wife's record, or a spousal benefit based on your living ex-wife's record.

These two benefits are subject to different rules.

A widow or widower can receive a discounted survivor's benefit as early as age 60 and switch to his or her own full benefit at full retirement age. By contrast, you must be at least 62 to collect a discounted benefit based on a living spouse's or ex-spouse's record — and if you apply for it when you're less than full retirement age, you can't restrict the application to the spousal benefit. You'll receive a spousal benefit or your own benefit, whichever is greater. If you postpone applying for a spousal benefit until age 66, however, you can file a restricted application for it. Then at 70, you can switch to your own benefit, which grows 8 percent a year (plus inflation adjustments) for up to four years of delay after you turn 66.

THE BOTTOM LINE Social Security survivor benefits for spouses aren't subject to the same rules as benefits based on a living person's work record.

WEBSITES WITH MORE INFORMATION nwsdy.li/survivorbenefits and nwsdy.li/divorcebenefit

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email act2@newsday.com. 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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