Maximizing Social Security for Spouses, Widow(ers) and Divorcees – Finger Financial Five #58

“If you cannot explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.” – Albert Einstein

One of the biggest mistakes I see retirees make is in deciding when to take Social Security. Somewhat commonly, they think in terms of only their own “break even age” with no consideration of the survivor benefit. To learn about Spousal, Widow(er), and Divorced Social Security benefits read on…and I will do my best to make it simple as Einstein would have wanted…

Upon the death of a married person (let’s say it’s the husband), the surviving spouse usually gets the higher of her own benefit or the benefit of the deceased. So, when the higher wage earner claims early, this reduces not only their own benefit, but also eventually can reduce the benefit of their surviving spouse.

Typically, the husband takes benefits early because he thinks he won’t live that long. So, he takes benefits at 62, but by doing this, he permanently reduces his benefits and the future benefits of his wife.

98% of survivor’s benefits are paid to women and 80% of women survive their husbands by an average of 14 years.  That is a long time to have a dramatically reduced benefit.

To qualify for spousal benefit:

  • You must have been married at least one year

  • The primary worker must have filed

  • Generally, you must not qualify for a benefit of your own that is equal to or greater than ½ of primary workers PIA (Primary Insurance Amount a/k/a their benefit)

The spousal benefit is designed so as not to penalize the stay-at-home spouse.

Note: There are larger penalties for taking spousal benefits early. For example: Taking your own benefit at age 62, you get 75% of PIA. If you take your spousal benefit at 62, you only get 70% of PIA, 5% less.

Unlike your own benefit, there is no benefit increase for a spouse who delays taking SS past full retirement age.


  • Must be 60 years old

  • Unmarried – unless married after age 60

  • Were married a minimum of nine months prior to spouse’s death

Widow benefits are unique in that they are based not just on when the survivor files, but also on when the deceased files. 

If the deceased did not file for benefits, the widow would be eligible for either the full retirement age benefit, plus any delayed retirement credits he may have been eligible for, if he would have claimed on the date of death. In other words, the survivor will get the benefit as if the deceased filed for Social Security on the date of death.

If the deceased had filed, his widow is limited to the higher of what the deceased was actually receiving or 82.5% of the deceased’s Full Retirement Age benefit.

The most important thing to know about widow benefits: you can switch between widow benefits and benefits you’ve earned based on your own work record. Most people miss this!!!!

Best way to explain this, is a case study…

Let’s say John and Jane were both born in 1960, which makes their full retirement age for Social Security 67.

Most of the time, widows(ers) file without thinking at age 60.

When they then file for Medicare at 65, they may get lucky and switch to their own work record benefit for a slight increase.

If Jane followed an intentional strategy, she wouldn’t switch over to her own benefit until age 70.  That would get her about $2,125 per month from age 70 to 90.  The lifetime value of this strategy is over $681,000.

A second intentional strategy would have her claim her own benefit at 62, then switch to her widow benefit at 66 years/8 months.  That seems quirky, right?  66 years/8 months is her Full Retirement Age for widow benefits, which you will notice is different than her full retirement age for her own retirement benefit.  The lifetime value of this strategy would be $627,200.

Depending on Jane’s life expectancy, age, and employment situation, both intentional strategies would net Jane significantly more than doing what most people do.

Divorced Spouse Benefit

  • Must have been married to your ex for 10+ years

  • Not currently married – your ex can be re-married, but in order to qualify for this benefit, you must not be re-married.

  • Same benefits amounts and reductions apply for early claiming as current spouse

  • “Independently Entitled” means you are divorced for over 2 years. If you are Independently Entitled, then you can file whether your ex has filed or not. Your ex does have to be at least 62 years old. If you have not been divorced over 2 years, then you have to wait until your ex has filed.

Surviving Divorced Spouse

  • Must have been married to your ex for 10+ years

  • Must be unmarried unless re-married after age 60

  • Benefit amount is the same as surviving spouse

Your choices on when you take benefits as a divorced spouse will not affect your ex or your current spouse and vice versa. Spite has no place here … just choose what is best for you.  😊 Also, your ex will not be notified of what you do, unless you tell them. True story: I talked to a lady who had no idea about this benefit. I told her to call the Social Security office and she was able to up her benefit immediately. HELLO, PAYCHECK INCREASE. Lot of the benefits of working with a financial advisor (like me 😊), may not show up on your monthly statement.

Death will eventually affect us all and divorce, unfortunately, is very common.  Hopefully, this information has shed some light on the Social Security benefits in these circumstances.

If you have a specific situation you would like to discuss, please let me know.  Happy to help. Email me at [email protected] or CLICK HERE for a free 15 min phone appointment.

On the lighter side, we went to Miami last week on vacation. Funny, and not so funny story, we rented jet skis and rode in the harbor. My cell phone was in the storage and went into SOS mode because of all the bouncing on choppy water. My mom got an emergency text from my phone with my location, which was coincidentally, near Mount Sini Hospital. To make matters worse, I could not turn SOS mode off to call or text anyone. My phone went back to normal after an hour. My mom said she almost had a heart attack.

We had some of the best food I have ever eaten. One night was Argentinian. One night was Asian. Thanksgiving was a buffet.  I gained weight around my waist, but the bills cost me an arm and leg…

Hope all is well with you and your family,


Finger Financial Five – 5 points in 5 minutes or less – is to provide you with a weekly shot of useful financial information.  My intention is to share principles, so that you will have more clarity and peace, that help you make better financial decisions.


  1.  http://www.marketwatch.com/story/ten-ways-husbands-can-help-their-wives-survive-widowhood

  2. http://www.socialsecurity.gov/policy/docs/ssb/v70n3/v70n3p89.html

Investment advice offered through Stratos Wealth Advisors, LLC, a registered investment advisor; DBA Riverbend Wealth Management.

This content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information and provided by Riverbend Wealth Management. The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual. Stratos Wealth Partners and its affiliates do not provide tax, legal or accounting advice. This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, tax, legal or accounting advice. You should consult your own tax, legal and accounting advisors before engaging in any transaction.


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