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Ask Larry: Can My Husband’s Ex Get Some Of His Social Security?

Today’s column addresses questions about what an ex drawing divorced spousal benefits might mean for other benefits drawn on a worker’s record, whether it’s better to file a few months before turning 70 and what difference filing at 65 or a month earlier would make. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Can My Husband’s Ex Get Some Of His Social Security?

Hi Larry, My husband was married before he and I married. His previous marriage last about 4 years and as far as we know, she has not remarried if that matters. We are both about to file now and we are wondering if she can take benefits from his record. If she can do so, what will that mean for us?

Will any benefits she gets reduce what he can get for his own benefit or any spousal or widow’s benefit I might be able to get?

Can his ex claim benefits on my husband’s record and if so, will it reduce or even eliminate the benefits he or I might otherwise be able to get from his record? Thanks, Susan


Hi Susan, If your husband’s previous marriage lasted for less than 10 years, his ex could not qualify for any benefits from his record. They would have had to have been married for at least 10 full years before divorcing,

Also, assuming he has not yet filed for his retirement benefit, they would need to be divorced for two years and she would need to be at least 62 to be eligible to claim divorced spousal benefits on your husband’s record.

And I should point out though, that even if your husband did have an ex who was eligible for divorced spousal benefits from his record, those benefits would not reduce the amount of benefits that could be paid to your husband or to anyone else who qualifies for benefits based on his Social Security earnings history.

Divorced spousal benefits do not count against the family maximum benefit (FMB)

that can be paid on a worker’s Social Security record, so they have no adverse effect on the benefits payable to other beneficiaries. Divorced spousal and divorced survivor’s benefits do not reduce other benefits payable on a worker’s record in any way.

So even though it sounds like your husband’s ex is not eligible for benefits on his record, even if she were, it would not adversely affect you or your husband or anyone else who might be able to draw benefits on his record. Best, Larry

Should I Start Drawing My Benefits Before The Month I Reach 70?

Hi Larry, I turn 70 in October 2021. Some people I know have told me that if I file for benefits to start earlier in 2021 than October, I’ll get almost the same amount. But I don’t know if what they say is true.

Should I do what they advocate? I’m still working so my plan would be to bank all or most of my Social Security benefits for now. Thanks, Jill

Hi Jill, That’s up to you, but if you start drawing your benefits before you turn 70, your permanent benefit rate would be 2/3rds of 1% lower for each month that you start drawing prior to the month you reach 70.

Furthermore, if you start drawing any month other than January or the month you reach 70, you don’t receive credit for any delayed retirement credits (DRCs) you earned in the calendar year that you claim your benefits until the following January.

Furthermore, if you’re married and if you die before your spouse, their survivor rate would be limited to no more than your monthly rate. So if you’re married and if your spouse’s own Social Security benefit rate is lower than yours, you’ll potentially be lowering their benefit rate as a survivor if you start drawing prior to 70.

Before filing, you may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze your options in order to determine the best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Would I Be Able To Get My Benefit Adjusted?

Hi Larry, I was born in February 1943 and I retired in January 2007 and also filed for my Social Security retirement benefit that month. I f I would have waited until February that year, I would have been 65. Does that mean I would have gotten 8% more? If so, would I be able to get an adjustment? Thanks, Bill

Hi Bill, You can no long adjust your filing date but your benefit rate would not be 7% higher if you had waited one additional month before starting to draw your benefits.

When a person starts drawing their Social Security retirement benefits prior to their full retirement age (FRA), their benefit rate is reduced by 5/9 of 1% for the first 36 months of reduction, and 5/12 of 1% for each additional month.

So if you started drawing your benefits 13 months prior to your FRA, your benefit rate is reduced by roughly 7.22%. If you had instead started drawing your benefits 12 months prior to your FRA, your benefit rate would have been reduced by roughly 6.67%.

In other words, starting your benefits one month prior to 65 vs. starting in the month you reached 65 only reduced your benefit rate by an additional 5/9 of 1%.

In any event, though, it would be too late now to request to start your benefits effective with a different month. Best, Larry

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