Would I Be Eligible For Divorced Surviving Spousal Benefits?

Feb 22 2018 - 11:26am

Hello Larry
I am a 65 year old female who is employed with a salary of 58,000$
I was married for 16 years when my husband and I divorced.
I remarried and approximately 2 years later, my first husband died.
My second husband and I divorced about 4 years after the death of my first husband.
Would I be eligible for divorced survival spousal benefits?
If so, would it be better to wait until my FRA? (66).
And how does social security figure out benefits when a worker dies young?
My husband was 41 when he died.
Thank you


The answer to your question is probably yes assuming that you will turn age 66 this year. If you won't turn 66 until next year, then the answer would depend on your benefit rate.

Assuming that you will be earning $58,000 in 2018, your earnings will definitely exceed the Social Security earnings test exempt amount if you don't reach age 66 until 2019. However, even then you still might be due some surviving divorced spousal benefits if your benefit rate is high enough. But if you were born in 1952 then Social Security would only count your earnings up until the month of your birthday this year, and if you haven't earned more than $45,360 by then you could probably start drawing benefits right away. And even if your earnings would be more than the $45,360 exempt amount, Social Security would only need to withhold $1 of benefits for each $3 of your excess earnings before they could start paying you (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html).

Your best overall strategy is likely one of the following:
1) File for reduced surviving divorced spouse's benefits now or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for retirement benefits on your own record now or as soon as your earnings will permit some benefits to be paid, then file for unreduced surviving divorced spouse's benefits at your full retirement age (FRA).

Generally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches it's highest potential rate. The maximization software available on this website can sort this all out for you and help you determine your best overall filing strategy.

With regard to your question about how Social Security calculates survivor benefits on the record of someone who dies at a young age, the answer is that they use an average of a variable number of the person's highest earnings years depending on their age at the time of death. If your ex died at age 41, then Social Security would base your benefit rate on an average of your ex's highest 13 or 14 years of wage-indexed earnings.

Best, Jerry