I talk to a lot of people about Social Security. It’s not a topic you’d necessarily expect to hold a lot of ears … but it does. It even drops a few jaws, especially when I talk about benefits eligibility for divorcees.
That’s right, you need not be married to your spouse to collect spousal and/or survivor benefits based on his/her earnings history. And here are a few of the biggest jaw-droppers:
• You can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record even if he/she is remarried.
• Your decision to collect on your ex-spouse’s earnings history will have no impact on the size of his/her benefits or those of his/her current spouse.
• Your ex likely won’t know you are collecting benefits off of his/her record. The Social Security Administration (SSA) does not provide notification as a matter of course (though the SSA may have to contact your ex for additional information).
•Married more than once (for at least 10 years each time)? The SSA will see that you receive the highest benefit (as long as you provide the applicable marriage certificates and divorce decrees).
• And consider the other side of this coin: One individual can have multiple ex-spouses collecting on his/her earnings history, provided he/she was married to each spouse for at least 10 years. (I can think of one public figure who has three of four ex-spouses eligible to collect on his Social Security record. He was married to the fourth for only 8 years and 10 months.)
So how do you know if you can collect on your ex? Check off the three boxes below, and you are probably eligible for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s earnings history:
□ You were married to your ex for at least 10 years.1
□ You are unmarried currently.
□ Both you and your ex have attained age 62.
Assuming you meet the eligibility criteria for spousal benefits as a divorcee, you are entitled to the same 50% that applies to married couples, as we discussed here.2 In addition, your benefit is based on your ex’s entire earnings history, not just earnings accrued during the time you were married.
When your ex passes away, you also become eligible for survivor benefits. You could receive the same benefits as a widow/widower, without affecting the benefits of other survivors. The criteria for collecting survivor benefits as a divorcee are slightly different from those that apply to spousal benefits:
□ You must have been married to your ex for 10+ years. (No difference here.)
□ You must be unmarried currently or remarried after age 60.
□ You must be at least age 60.
Like everything else in Social Security, there are complexities involved here, but I can tell you this very plainly: There is no divorce decree anywhere that can preclude you from collecting Social Security benefits as an ex-spouse, provided you’ve met the conditions outlined above.
Doesn’t apply to you? Chances are you know someone who meets these criteria, and I hope you will share this blog post with them.
To learn more, I encourage you to visit the Social Security Administration website or BlackRock’s Retirement Center. And stay tuned to The Blog for more on Social Security and other retirement-related insight from me.
Rob Kron, Managing Director, is the head of Investment and Retirement Education for BlackRock’s U.S. Wealth Advisory group. He is the newest contributor to The Blog and provides practical information on topics that are important to every saver and investor of every age. You can find more from Rob here.
1 You also must be divorced for at least two years (unless you were already eligible for spousal benefits at the time of divorce).
2 If you earned a government/teacher pension while not paying into Social Security, a spousal or survivor benefit could be reduced (even to zero). Read more here.
Sources: BlackRock; Social Security Administration. Please see the Social Security Administration’s website at www.ssa.gov for more information, restrictions and limitations about Social Security benefits.
The above commentary is based on Social Security laws in effect as of June 2014. Congress has made changes to the laws in the past, and can do so at any time in the future.
This material is provided for educational purposes only and does not constitute investment advice. The information contained herein is based on current tax laws, which may change in the future. BlackRock cannot be held responsible for any direct or incidental loss resulting from applying any of the information provided in this publication or from any other source mentioned. The information provided in these materials does not constitute any legal, tax or accounting advice. Please consult with a qualified professional for this type of advice.
This article was written by BlackRock Managing Director Rob Kron.