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How Spousal or Divorced Spouse Social Security Benefits Work

While your clients are certainly familiar with Social Security and the payments they’re likely to receive, they may know very little about spousal Social Security benefits. Basically, married clients may be eligible to receive benefits based on the years that their spouse worked and paid taxes into the Social Security system. 

According to Michelle Herd, senior client advisor at TFC Financial Management, this benefit is one-half of what a spouse is eligible to receive at their full retirement age (FRA). Your client or their spouse’s FRA will be determined by their years of birth; FRA overall is increasing.

“When your client goes to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, the system will compare the benefits they could receive based on their own earnings record to the benefit for which they are eligible based on their spouse’s record and give your client the higher of the two benefits,” she explains.

Divorced spouses have benefits, too

A divorced spouse is entitled to many of the same Social Security benefits as a married one. As long as they remain unmarried, they could receive benefits based on their ex-spouse’s employment record. Advisors can better explain the many nuances of spousal and divorced spouse Social Security benefits to their clients.

According to the Social Security Administration, a divorced person can receive benefits from their exes’ employment record if…

  1. The marriage lasted at least 10 years
  2. The claimant never remarried
  3. The claimant is 62 or older
  4. The claimant’s ex is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits
  5. The benefit to which the claimant is entitled based on his or her own work record is less than the benefit based on the ex-spouse’s work record.

According to Kimberly Foss, founder of Empyrion Wealth Management, Social Security benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record do not reduce or affect the benefits payable to the ex. Also, benefits based on an ex-spouse’s work record are payable even if the ex is remarried.

Depending on your client’s age, up to 50 percent of the ex-spouse’s benefit is payable to the claimant. Foss reminds her clients that, with Social Security benefits, the longer the claimant waits to receive the benefit, the higher the payment will be. The claimant may still be able to receive divorced spouse benefits from a deceased ex-spouse if:

  1. The claimant is at least 60 (50 if disabled)
  2. The claimant is unmarried

Foss adds that claimants who remarry after age 60, or 50 if disabled, may still be able to receive benefits based on a deceased ex-spouse’s work record, but they might also receive benefits based on the work record of their current spouse – which will be larger in many cases.

“They may receive one or the other, but not both,” she says.

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