by Susan A. Moussi, CPA, CFP®, CDFA
Social Security benefits are in a constant state of flux; eligibilities and rules are always changing, and the rules are complex.
Fortunately, there are professionals who specialize in Social Security benefits exclusively and maintain knowledge of the changes and eligibility requirements. I provide my clients with information through this ever-shifting landscape, but if their situation is out of the ordinary I will refer my clients to a specialist.
In this article, I will share with you some of the information I routinely share with my clients.
If I divorce, what kind of Social Security benefits can I get?
Social Security benefits earned during the marriage are considered a marital asset, but they can’t necessarily be divided with a court order like other retirement plans can be divided. Depending on the age of the couple, they may be taken into consideration as part of one spouse’s income to pay child support or spousal support to the other spouse. Alternatively, there may be a value assigned to the Social Security benefit, for which the other spouse receives a different asset.
What if neither of these things happen?
As a former spouse, you may be able to see whether the benefits to you would be greater under your own record or under that of a former spouse. In order to be eligible to collect the benefits based on a former spouse’s earning record, you must meet some criteria:
1.You and your ex-spouse were married for at least 10 years.
2.You are unmarried at the time you file for benefits.
3.Your own benefits would be less than 50% of your former spouse’s benefits to which you may be entitled.
4.Your former spouse has applied for or is receiving his or her own Social Security benefit.
You should also be aware of documentation you might need in the future if you are going to apply for benefits based on your former spouse’s earning records. They include your former spouse’s name, date of birth, and a Social Security number. When you get divorced, you might experience an urge to dispose of old records like your marriage certificate. Resist that urge! Such documentation might prove invaluable.
Besides your marriage certificate, you will also want to maintain a copy of your final decree of divorce, to prove your marriage to — and divorce from — your former spouse, and for what amount of time. This type of information should be kept and maintained for any former spouses.
When can I collect Social Security benefits?
If your former spouse is alive and is collecting benefits, then you can start to receive benefits at age 62. If your former spouse is deceased, then you can collect at age 60.
Your benefits will be reduced if you receive Social Security benefits before you reach normal retirement age. The death of your spouse will not eliminate your benefits, but will entitle you to “surviving divorced spouse benefits,” which are greater than other divorced spouse benefits.
What about Medicare?
If you are eligible for Social Security benefits based on your former spouse’s work record, and he is at least 62 and you are 65, then you are also eligible for Medicare benefits.