What Benefits Are My Wife And I Eligible For?

Jul 7 2016 - 10:45am

Dear Larry,
I am presently 69 years old and have lived and worked outside of the US for about 45 years. I last worked for an American company in 1977 and have been employed by non-US companies subsequently. As a result of my foreign employment, I was unable to contribute to Social Security after 1977 (even if I wanted to)!
I have, however, accumulated the necessary number of quarters of employment prior to 1977 to qualify fully for Social Security benefits, which I intend to apply for upon turning 70-1/2.
My spouse of 31 years is a non-resident alien who has never worked in the US and who has never contributed to Social Security.
In reading various articles and pieces of advice in respect of Social Security, I can find almost nothing regarding persons in my situation and how I can maximize SS benefits during my lifetime, but more importantly, what SS benefits my non-resident alien wife is eligible to collect upon my death.
Can you help clear the fog for me?


If you have 40 quarters of US Social Security (SS) coverage, you will be able to receive monthly benefits. The benefit amount won't be any higher if you wait past age 70 to apply, but as long as you file within 6 months after your 70th birthday, you won't lose any benefits. However, if you receive a foreign pension based on your work outside the US, your SS benefit will probably be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (See: https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10045.pdf).

Your wife may not be able to receive spousal or survivor benefits on your record due to Social Security's alien non-payment provision. There are numerous exceptions to that provision, and if your wife meets one of those, she could potentially receive up to half of your full retirement age benefit (PIA) as a spouse, and 100% of your benefit amount, inclusive of any delayed retirement credits you earned for waiting until age 70 to file, as a widow. The widow's rate would probably even be higher than the amount you receive, since the WEP reduction doesn't apply to survivor benefits. That won't matter, though, unless she meets an exception to the alien non-payment provision. See the following sections of Social Security's handbook for more information: https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.18/handbook-1845.html & https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.18/handbook-1846.html.

Best, Jerry