Opinion: Can I get survivor benefits from my ex-wife before I claim my Social Security?

We receive a lot of questions via email and we cannot answer all of them. We use email to create new columns based on common questions. Sometimes an email presents a specific situation we would deal with on our own in a column. Today is just such a column.

My ex-wife passed away in October 2020. We got married in 1984 and divorced in 2000. She remarried, I haven’t remarried. At the time of her death, she was 70 years old. I was 61 years old at the time of her death. I contacted Social Security to try to claim my spouse benefits. They pointed out that I was making too much money; I am still working full time earning about $45,000 annually.

Is there any other way I can get her benefits up to that point (66+) that I choose to claim my benefits on my own? My own benefit would be a much larger monthly amount than she gets. Thank you.

Dear reader,

It’s important to understand how survivor benefits and benefits are handled based on your own work record, so you can get the most out of each. It is possible to coordinate the filing time for each benefit (if your circumstances allow), so that you can take advantage of one benefit for a period of time, and then switch to another when it is completed. increments to the maximum (or an arbitrary number of days).

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In this email you are referring to survivor benefits, not spousal benefits, just to be clear. The initial problem in this case is that you earn too much from your job to be eligible for Social Security benefits – the income limit (which is $19,560 in 2022) is less than full income. your time pretty much . At this income level, most (possibly all) of any Social Security survivor benefits will be withheld due to your income level. Once a person reaches Full Retirement Age (FRA, between 66 and 67, depending on year of birth), this income limit will no longer apply.

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But because you’re under the FRA, for every $2 over the income limit, $1 in Social Security benefits is withheld. Your income from work is $45,000, so this is a total of $25,440 over the limit. This means a total of $12,720 ($1 for every $2 over the limit) will be deducted from any Social Security benefits you may be eligible for. Assuming that your deceased ex-wife’s surviving benefit is less than $1,060 (monthly equivalent of $12,720), the full amount is withheld and you will receive nothing from it. .

But income limits aside, consider the rest of this situation. From our calculations above, it is safe to assume that the survivor benefit is around $1,000. You indicate that your own benefit will be something “much greater” than the survivor’s benefit, so let’s put it at $2,000 for the sake of the example.

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The question is: Is there any way I can get a survivorship benefit up to that point (assuming you mean Full retirement age) that I choose to receive my own benefits? Unfortunately, as we have seen above due to income limits, the answer is no. However, if you choose to stop working or limit your earnings to less than $45,000 from work, you may be able to receive at least a portion of your Social Security survivor benefit in the interim. .

Also, in the year that you’ll reach the FRA, there’s a much more liberal income limit ($51,960 in 2022, and only $1 in every $3 over the withheld limit). When you get to that year, there’s no reason to waive the death benefit (a slight reduction because you’re still in the FRA), since your income is below the income limit. You can get the full benefit amount alive until your Full Retirement month, and then roll over to your own retirement benefit.

Read: The messy problem of Social Security, spousal benefits and when to claim

The reason you can make this transition is that your survivor benefits and retirement benefits are not affected by the supposed rules. (As a reminder, just know that the rules are considered to require it if you are eligible to spousal benefits and retirement benefits based on your own records, if you are applying for one benefit you are deemed to have filed for both, there is no separation of the two. The rules are deemed not to apply between Survivor’s Allowance and retirement benefits.)

To make this more clear, let’s say you left your $45,000 job, so the income limit doesn’t apply. At age 61, when your ex-wife passes away, you’ll be eligible for a reduced survivorship benefit according to her record, while still deferring your own retirement benefits to a later date. Receiving a death benefit at an earlier age does not affect your own retirement benefits.

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The reverse is also true: if your own benefits are less than the survivor’s benefits, you can start receiving your own retirement benefits as early as age 62 (with a substantial reduction), and then at the FRA turned to a much larger survivor benefit. Filing for one of these benefits early does not affect the other – this is why the two can be combined this way.

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Going back to the original example with the limit: In this case, when you reach the FRA, you maybe file and receive benefits alive, and continue to defer your own retirement benefits to a later date when the deferred credits have maximized benefits. Assuming your FRA is 67 and you defer your retirement benefits until you turn 70, the resulting benefits at that point could be as much as $2,480 (for deferred credits). three-year rate on top of your initial benefit of $2,000). Meanwhile, you will receive a survivor benefit (based on your late ex-wife’s record) for three years.

Have a question about Social Security? Write us at Opinion: Can I get survivor benefits from my ex-wife before I claim my Social Security?


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