Marriage, Divorce, and Death: Social Security Spousal Benefits

December 07, 2016

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Many people are unaware of the Social Security issues that relate to current spouses, ex-spouses and deceased spouses. There are 2,728 Core Rules and thousands of additional codicils related to claiming Social Security benefits. Today I will just highlight the basics.


  • Once a marriage reaches its 1 year anniversary, a spouse is eligible to receive the greater of their own benefits or half of their spouse’s benefits (based on full retirement age).
  • You cannot receive spousal benefits until your spouse files for their own benefits. Both spouses must be over age 62.
  • Upon the death of either spouse, the surviving spouse inherits the greater of the two benefits, assuming they both have their own Social Security benefits.
  • Spouse A is only eligible for half of the benefits of Spouse B at Full Retirement Age (66) . They are not eligible for half of the check should Spouse B decide delay claiming benefits until age 70 to earn the delayed credits (8% per year between 66-70.)
  • If you are not yet at Full Retirement Age (66), both spouses are subject to a reduction in benefits and the Earnings Test. Note that there are a number of issues relating to claiming early.
  • If you were born prior to January  2, 1954 you can claim spousal benefits (Restricted Claiming Provision) at Full Retirement Age (66) while postponing your own benefits until age 70, as long as your spouse has claimed benefits on their own record.


Spouse A’s Full Retirement Age check is $2,500. Spouse B’s Full Retirement Age check is $1,000. They’re both 64.

At 66, Spouse A files for benefits and receives $2,500. Spouse B receives $1,250 spousal benefit since it is greater than their own benefit. If Spouse A dies first, Spouse B will receive 100% of Spouse A’s benefit upon death.


  • If you were married for at least 10 years, you can receive spousal benefits from your ex-spouse as long as both of you are over age 62.
  • The ex-spouse does not have to have claimed in order to claim benefits based upon their record.
  • Remarriage cancels the ability to claim divorced spousal benefits.
  • If you claim benefits, you will receive the greater of your own benefits or spousal, but not both.
  • If you were born before January 2, 1954 you can claim divorced spousal benefits at FRA while postponing your own record until age 70.
  • If you are not yet at FRA and decide to claim, you are subject to reduced benefits and the Earnings Test.


  • If you’re married and your spouse dies, you can receive survivorship, which is the greater of the two benefits.
  • You can claim survivorship benefits as early as age 60 (reduced benefits).
  • You are still subjected to a reduction in benefits and the earnings test if you are not at FRA.
  • You can claim survivorship benefits as early as age 60 and postpone your own benefits until age 70. Alternately, you can claim your own benefits at age 62 while waiting until FRA (66) to claim survivorship benefits.
  • If you remarry prior to age 60, you cannot receive survivorship benefits on your deceased spouse.


Tom (age 66) will retire in January 2017.  Tom was married to Barb, but she passed away in 2008. Tom’s Social Security Check at 66 is $2500. Barb’s is $2,400.

Tom claims survivorship benefits and receives $2,400 per month. At age 70, he claims his own benefits of $3,300 (plus any Cost of Living Adjustments).

Know your options

There are hundreds—if not thousands— of different scenarios that can play out in regards to claiming Social Security. It is imperative that you explore and fully understand all your options prior to claiming benefits. The difference between proper and improper claiming can easily surpass $500,000 over a joint lifetime.

If I can be of assistance to you, your employees or your friends and family don’t hesitate contacting me. You can also go to my website to see more about what I do or articles I’ve written.

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Dave Zander

Back Nine Financial

After spending the first 25 years of his career on what he calls the “front nine” (the accumulation phase), Dave has dedicated the last 16 years to the “back nine” (the income phase). He ran both Aetna’s and Lincoln National’s income divisions before starting Back Nine Financial in 2005. Back Nine is strictly an educational, consulting and speaking firm. He primarily works with CPAs, corporations and individuals to help them understand and maximize Social Security benefits. Dave has conducted Social Security Workshop across the country for a variety of audiences, including the Texas CPA Tax Institute and the CPA societies in Houston, Dallas, San Antonio and Austin for each of the last 3 years. With 10,000 Baby Boomers turning 66 every day for the next 17 years, Dave feels it is incumbent upon financial advisors, CPAs, HR departments and other professionals to make sure their clients, employees and the American public best understand not only how to take Social Security, but to also understand and integrate that claiming decision with their other assets.
 Dave is a graduate from the University of Wisconsin – Whitewater with a BBA, majoring in marketing with a minor in accounting. He left EF Hutton and gave up Wisconsin winters in 1983, moving to Houston where he met Diane. They been married 30 years and have been blessed with 2 children, Macy and Miles, who have now graduated from college and are on their own. Dave & Diane live outside of Boerne, TX.
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