Social Security survivor benefits from a former spouse

Dan – Ohio: I just got done reading “Get What’s Yours for Medicare.” It’s a great source of information and, while Medicare is still confusing, it’s less confusing to me now!

My wife is 73, and I am 64. I will be turning 65 soon. My wife has been taking Social Security benefits since she was 62. I would like to apply for my Social Security benefits when I turn 67. My wife was married before to a man around 35 years ago who has since died. She was married to him for about 12 years. The question is, can she apply for survivor benefits from his account? Another question is whether her benefit will go up when I take Social Security at age 67, and she becomes eligible for a spousal benefit based on my work record. What is the better scenario?

Phil Moeller: If she remarried you when she was age 60 or later, she is eligible for an ex-spousal survivor benefit. If she was younger than this when you married, she is not eligible.

When you apply for your benefit at age 67, she will be eligible for a spousal benefit. If it’s larger than her survivor benefit, she’d receive an additional payment equal to the difference. If not, her benefit would stay the same.

If her survivor benefit would be greater than her own retirement benefit, she should file for it right away if she’s eligible. In 12 years, when you file for your benefit, she should check to see if her spousal benefit would be larger than what she’s been receiving. If so, she should then claim the spousal benefit.

However, because she filed for her own benefit before her full retirement age, any additional benefit – either an ex-spousal survivor benefit or a spousal benefit – will be reduced.