Social Security Issues For Women

Many women suffer financial hardship when a marriage ends due to death or divorce. Understanding what Social Security benefits you are entitled to can help bridge at least a portion of that financial gap.


What happens to Social Security benefits in the event of divorce?  If your ex-spouse’s benefits are higher than what you are entitled to on your own record, you could potentially be entitled to additional benefits based on his record if the following circumstances apply:

  • You were married for at least 10 years
    • Planning Tip: If you have been married at least 10 years to more than one person and are not currently married, you may choose from the highest benefit of your ex-spouses
    • Planning Tip: If you are contemplating divorce and nearing your 10 year anniversary, timing could be critical. Consider the financial benefit of finalizing the divorce AFTER you have crossed the 10 year mark.
  • Your benefit as a divorced spouse (which is equal to 50% of your ex-spouse’s benefit at Full Retirement Age, or his Primary Insurance Amount) is higher than your benefit on your own record
    • You actually technically will receive your own benefit, and an “auxillary benefit” on top of that to equal 50% of your ex-spouse’s PIA.
    • Planning Tip: If you were born BEFORE 1/2/1954, you can collect a divorced spouse’s benefit regardless of whether it is higher or not, and let your own benefit continue to grow. If born 1/2/1954 or LATER, you must choose the higher of the two benefits, which means you cannot allow your own benefit to grow until a later date and collect it then.
  • You are not remarried
    • If your ex-spouse is currently collecting, you can file immediately.
    • If your ex-spouse qualifies but is not current collecting benefits, you can begin collecting two years following your divorce.
    • Planning Tip: If you remarry, and your subsequent spouse passes away, you can resume your initial ex-spouse’s benefit (assuming it is higher than your benefit as a widow).

What Social Security benefits are you entitled to if your spouse passes away?  Generally, you will be entitled to a widow’s benefit if:

  • You were married for at least 9 months prior to your spouse’s passing
    • Planning Tip: There is no length of marriage required if your spouse’s death was accidental or in the line of US military duty
  • You are at least 60 years old
    • Planning Tip: You can apply for survivor benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled and the disability occurred within seven years of your spouse’s death.
    • Planning Tip: If you are caring for children from the marriage who are under 16 or disabled, you can apply at any age.
  • If you remarry before age 60 (or before 50 is you collecting Social Security disability benefits), you will forfeit your right to a widow’s benefit
    • Planning Tip: If that marriage subsequently ends, you will regain your eligibility for a widow’s benefit
  • If you remarry after your age 60, you will retain your right to a widow’s benefit
    • Planning Tip: You can continue to collect a widow’s benefit and let you own benefit grow, even if the widow’s benefit is lower. This right to file on the lower benefit was NOT changed by the changes to the filing rules for those born before 1/2/1954
  • You can apply at any age if you are caring for children from the marriage who are under 16 or disabled.

Information provided in this post is believed to be accurate as of the date of this publication.  Please be sure to consult with your financial advisor for your specific situation.

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