Would I Qualify For My Ex's Full Benefit Amount If He Dies?

Jul 20 2018 - 3:46pm

Hi Larry,

I am receiving spousal benefits from my ex-husband as well as my own SS benefits which brings me up to 50% of his PIA. Upon his death would I qualify for his "full" benefit amount? Can you explain the death benefit?

Thank you very much,

Hi Irene,

If you qualify for surviving divorced spousal benefits (https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/handbook/handbook.04/handbook-0403.html), in most cases what you would receive is the higher or your own benefit rate or the benefit rate that your ex-spouse would be eligible for if they were still living. That's just a generalization, though, since many variables can be involved in determining the actual benefit rate payable to a surviving spouse or divorced spouse.

For example, if the deceased person drew reduced retirement benefits prior to their death, the benefit rate payable to an eligible surviving spouse or divorced spouse would be limited to the higher of a) the deceased person's reduced retirement benefit rate, or b) 82.5% of the deceased's primary insurance amount (PIA). And, the survivor benefit rate for a surviving spouse or divorced spouse who starts drawing their survivor benefits at age 60 is limited to 71.5% of the deceased individual's PIA.

One important thing to understand is that you can't receive both your own Social Security retirement benefit plus a full Social Security survivor benefit at the same time. If you're eligible for both benefits simultaneously you could be paid no more than the higher of the two rates. However, it is possible to start drawing one benefit first and then switch to the other benefit later. For example, in some cases it's advantageous for a survivor to file for reduced widow's benefits at age 60 and then switch to their own record at age 70. Or, file for reduced retirement benefits at age 62 and then file for unreduced survivor benefits at full retirement age.

Our maximization software is designed to analyze the various benefit options available to users so that they can determine their best possible filing strategies.

Best, Jerry