My ex-husband is more than 13 years older than me and has made more money than me over the course of his career. We were married for more than 10 years and I did not remarry.
I’ve consulted some social security planners. Since my Social Security benefits are more than 50% of his benefits AND I will likely outlive him by a decade or two, they recommend that I use Social Security for my own benefits as soon as possible and get the much higher survivor benefits if he dies.
When my ex filed for Social Security, he realized that I was his wife at the time, and I have income taxes and a divorce order as evidence of our 10+ year common law marriage. So I plan to forward this information to Social Security when I claim next year.
My questions to you: Will he, since he and I are estranged, automatically inform me of his death so that I can switch to the much higher survivor benefit? If not, how can I possibly know when the change needs to be made?
Do you agree with the two social security planners that, given our age and income differences, my best course of action is to get my own benefits early and survivor benefits later?
I wouldn’t expect social security to tie the dots here.
Usually the funeral home will notify Social Security when someone dies. If someone is already applying for spouse benefits – which in many cases are also available to ex-spouses – Social Security automatically converts them into survivor benefits. The difference can be significant. Spouse benefits amount to a maximum of 50% of the person’s full benefits, while surviving dependents can receive up to 100%.
Before I go any further, let’s acknowledge the elephant in the room: planning social security benefits related to the death of an ex-spouse can feel a little gross. But it’s not about justifying the death of your ex-husband. Your goal is to make sure that it is you leave no advantages on the tableThis is a must for anyone on social security.
That is perfectly permissible Entitlement to social security from an ex-spouse If you’ve been married for at least 10 years, you have been divorced for two years and have not remarried. The logic is that both spouses make an economic contribution, even if one spouse does not work or earns significantly less.
That makes a lot of people angry. But it really shouldn’t. Receiving benefits on an ex-spouse’s record does not affect their benefits or the benefits the surviving spouse receives.
Social Security reviews its records annually to determine whether beneficiaries are eligible for higher widow or widower benefits. But a lot of people fall through the cracks. Last year, an internal social security audit found that around 15,000 people who claim to be making claims have qualified for higher survivor benefits.
How do you make sure that you are not one of them? One option would be to set up a Google alert for your ex-husband’s name. You will receive a notification when an online obituary is published. This is not foolproof and it may prove impractical if it has a very common name.
Another good solution is to call Social Security every six months. As long as you have your ex’s Social Security number, the agency should be able to determine if he’s still alive. The reason for calling twice a year is that social security can pay retroactive benefits for up to six months. So, if you find out that your ex-husband recently passed away, you can get the survivor benefit back.
To get Survivor benefitsYou will need to fill out a new application over the phone or at your local office. There is no way to apply for survivor benefits online. Hold on to the documents you have as you will need to provide proof that you were married.
Ultimately, I’m not as concerned about how you found out about your ex-husband’s death. This type of information tends to spread quickly in this digital age.
What worries me more is your plan to get benefits once you are 62 years old. In reality, around half of senior citizens depend on social security for at least 50% of their income. If you take up your benefits at the age of 62, you will receive 76% less per month than at the age of 70.
Statistically, you will likely outlive your ex-husband. However, you cannot make such important financial decisions based on a life expectancy table alone. Your ex-husband could live to be 95 or 100 years old. Ready to live on your own lesser utility for two decades or more?
I wouldn’t make a decision assuming that you will eventually receive a higher survivor benefit. Do not start claiming social security until the next year if you will receive a permanently reduced benefit in the foreseeable future.
Robin Hartill is a certified financial planner and senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. Send your tricky money questions to [email protected].
This article originally appeared on www.thepennyhoarder.com