Social Security: Marriage, Death, & Divorce

Executive Summary:

What happens to my Social Security when:
I lose my spouse?
I get divorced?
My ex-spouse dies?
I get remarried?
Can I claim against an ex-spouse and will they know?
What will my benefit be?
Do I have to wait until 62?
What can I do to get more from Social Security?

In this episode we answer the common questions asked about Social Security from people who lost a spouse due to death or divorce. If you want to learn how to get the most out of Social Security in these situations continue below

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Podcast Transcript

Daniel Wendol 0:00
What happens to my Social Security if my spouse dies? Or if I get divorced? What if I get divorced and then my spouse dies? And does it matter if I get remarried? These are the questions I’ve been getting for almost a decade. I’ve been doing social security seminars on teaching people how to maximize their benefits and these are the types of questions that come up over and over again. In today’s show, I’m going to address these specific questions. Today, we’re going to cover Social Security, marriage, divorce, and death.

Hello and welcome to another Dolphin Financial Radio with me, Dan Wendol. Alongside me is Tony Shore looking happy that we’re going to talk about Social Security, marriage divorce and death. And in particular death. You very look really interested in that.

Tony Shore 1:21
Super happy topic today. Super upbeat show. We want everyone out there to remain positive. Don’t panic, I think is the key. These are helpful tips. It’s all good. These are all things that eventually happen to people. And don’t worry, the show won’t be as negative as Dan is making it sound like.

Daniel Wendol 1:41
Actually, Tony, it’s going to be a great show because I’m going to take a decade’s worth of questions that I’ve been getting at the Social Security seminars and I’m going to boil it down into the top questions I constantly get asked: the ones that no matter what, no matter who I’m talking to, there’s always someone that asked the same questions and they all have to do about the same topic, which is getting divorced or losing a spouse or how marriage impacts Social Security. So my goal is that we can cover all of it today. And this will be the one show that people can listen to over and over again, or I can direct people to. So we’ll answer all their questions, and then we don’t have to talk about it anymore.

Tony Shore 2:20
I like it. And I have questions about that, too. So let’s dive right in. What’s the first question about Social Security that you constantly get that you want to address?

Daniel Wendol 2:29
Well, so a lot of people, believe it or not, people are suggesting or asking questions about what classifies them as a spouse. You know – who’s my spouse? Who can get my benefits and whose benefits can I get? Which, if you don’t know who your spouse is, there’s a problem but I think it goes a little deeper, right? So a lot has to do with ex spouses and so forth. Let’s talk specifically about a spouse. A lot of people know that they can get their Social Security benefit based on their own work record. They take your work history, put it in a magic formula and spit it out. Now, a lot of people don’t work or they don’t have their own records. So, they rely on a spouse. So who can become your spouse? And what do you have to do to classify as a spouse in order to gain benefits? The first thing you have to do is you have to get married. Okay, that’s that’s number right, Tony. You have a couple of daughters, right? What’s your take on the whole getting married thing? Are you planning on paying for that?

Tony Shore 3:40
I don’t ever plan on paying for anything.

Daniel Wendol 3:43
Remember, we’re recording this and I will send this to your daughters. So answer wisely.

Tony Shore 3:48
Yeah, well, they listen sometimes to the show, but yeah, I don’t know how that’s gonna work. Obviously, tradition would have it, the girl’s parents pay for the wedding. But, you know, a lot of traditions are changing. I’m hoping fast.

Daniel Wendol 4:07
Hopefully that one will.

Tony Shore 4:09
Yeah, yeah. But we haven’t really thought about it.

Daniel Wendol 4:13
Well, a lot of people when they get married, you know, they they don’t think about Social Security benefits. Right? Right. But if you do get married, although I’ve thought about it, I said, Well, you know, what if I married someone that is on Social Security, can I get benefits, you know, something like that? But, you know, that’s just the way I think. But how long do you have to be married in order to claim against spouse? Like I said, if you don’t have your own record, you can claim half of your spouse’s benefit – whatever they would get at their full retirement age. This is to prevent people from being penniless if they stay at home and say raise a family while their spouse works, which was much more common years ago. Now we have a lot of dual earning spouses, so it’s doesn’t apply as much, but it’s still relevant.

You have to be married for one year in order to claim spousal benefits. So you can’t just get married, and then immediately start claiming half of just Social Security benefit off of your spouse. You have to be married for a year before you do that. So that’s that’s one little tidbit that people don’t realize. Now, people say to me, okay, I get half of my spouse’s benefit, but what if my spouse dies, what happens there and this is, this is a biggie, because it’s going to happen, right? Someone’s going to die. And when you’re planning, Social Security benefits you plan based on your own record, but you also need to factor in your spouse. If you lose a spouse, at that point, you can claim your own Social Security benefit or your spouse’s benefit, whichever is higher. Meaning, if you’re both on Social Security, and say, Tony, you’re making $2,000 a month in Social Security and your wife is making $1,000 a month in Social Security, and you pass away, your wife is going to lose one of those benefits, and she’s going to lose whichever one’s lower. So she would give up her own and claim yours. You don’t get both. So a lot of people say you are going to lose one of those Social Security benefits, but you’re going to lose the lower of the two. That’s the only advantage. So, you know, there’s been a lot of gray divorces, and there’s been a lot of gray marriages, and that’s just, you know, people getting married past retirement age, you know, in their 60s. If your spouse dies, and you haven’t been married for a year, do you get social security benefits? What would you say, Tony?

Tony Shore 6:46
If you’ve been married, let’s say six months and your spouse would unfortunately happen to pass away. I would say from what you said earlier, no, but I would hope that there’s a there’s a caveat in there that you would.

Daniel Wendol 7:01
Yes, there is. if you’re married for nine months. For a widow or widowers benefit – for survivor benefits. So if you’re alive, you have to be married for a year to get spousal benefits while you’re both alive. But if one of the the spouses dies, they have to have been married for nine months before they can claim the spousal survivor benefit. Unless there’s children involved, unless there’s children involved. If there’s a child involved, you adopted, or you had a child, then you get it. Even if you were married less than nine months. Or if you die from an accident. So if it’s natural causes that’s one thing, but if it’s an accident, that’s another. Who’s to check? I don’t know. I haven’t had to deal with that. Luckily.

Tony Shore 7:50
Wow. Yeah, it sounds like it can get complicated, as is pretty much everything the government regulates, right.

Daniel Wendol 7:57
That’s right. And and you know, Social Security planning is very easy for me because I use software. But where it gets intricate and tricky is when you’re married. Now if you if you say to me, I’m a single person, what do I do about Social Security, we could do a simple cost benefit analysis, a timeline, breakeven, and boom, you get there you go. But if you’re married, all of a sudden, it gets a little more intricate, because you have to factor in the other spouse. And in general, you’re going to want to maximize one spouse, and let the other person start early. Because like I said, if one of you dies, you get to keep the higher of the two. So you want to have one that’s as high as possible.

Tony Shore 8:38
So you don’t want to both file at 62 and take reduced benefits. What you’re suggesting is in most not in every case, but in some cases, you probably want to one spouse to wait to file and let it build up because it rolls up at 6-8% a year. Right? And just have the one Social Security income and then that way, the other Social Security will build up.

Daniel Wendol 9:01
Right, right, and you’re playing off of each other that way. And then usually the other person can take it early to get that money in. Sometimes you have both delay. It depends a lot on whether or not you’re working, how long you expect to live your lifestyle.

Tony Shore 9:15
How much you already have saved in your 401k or your accounts.

Daniel Wendol 9:20
But in general, you want to try and maximize one of them. Now, here’s where I get a lot of questions and it’s typically has to do with an ex-spouse, and also someone that lost their spouse. So let’s talk about an ex-spouse.

Tony Shore 9:37
Okay, so now we’re talking about divorce.

Daniel Wendol 9:39
Divorce. And, this is important to know because I would argue that a divorced spouse or a widow, or widower has to really focus in on this because it makes a big difference. Losing a spouse, whether through divorce, or just through death can be very financially taxing. So they need to be attuned to this. And that’s why a lot of divorcees attend my seminars because they want this guidance. So in order to claim against your spouse, you have to be married or you could be divorced. But you have to have been married for 10 years consecutively. So you can’t play off an ex spouse, if you got divorced after two years. Meaning, you can’t take a 50% of their benefit or any of their survivor benefit if you weren’t married for more than 10 years.

Tony Shore 10:47
So what you’re saying Dan is, if you’ve been married nine years and things aren’t looking good in the relationship, just hold on.

Daniel Wendol 10:57
Instead of saying “it’s for the children,” say “it’s for Social Security.”

Tony Shore 11:02
I make light of it and I shouldn’t. It’s a serious situation and you hope you don’t ever have to go through it. But so many people end up having to deal with that. And that is a serious question. You want to make sure that you’re able to live in retirement and have enough money. And so unfortunately, you have to look at things like Social Security in a divorce situation.

Daniel Wendol 11:24
That’s right. You need to. And totally serious here, if you’re at that nine year mark, and you’re working through it, you might be able to delay the paperwork or whatever needs to happen just to get past that 10 year mark, because now you’ve opened up the potential to claim spousal benefits, even as an ex spouse or survivor benefits if that person dies, and I do want to talk about that as well.

But also, if you’re divorced, you can’t claim against an ex spouse if you get remarried before age sixty. So you can remarry after 60 and still claim against an ex-spouse. But if you have remarried before, and you’re currently married, then yeah, that’s not going to work if you get married before 60. So that’s another factor . If you’re 59, and you’re thinking about getting married, and you have an ex-spouse, you may consider waiting until age 60 to get married, so that you still have those other windows. So it does get a little tricky. And, you know, I don’t like the idea of getting married or divorced or whatever, based on Social Security benefits, but it’s still, you know, it’s another factor, especially for those that need the income. So yeah, just so we’re clear, when you when you have a spouse, and you don’t have your own record, you’re entitled to 50% of half of what their full retirement age benefit would be. Whichever is higher. So if you’re only going to make $500 a month on your social security, your spouse is making $2,500, so half of theirs is $1,250. You’ll get the step up to $1,250. So there is a lot of money to be thought about here. And like I said, if your spouse dies, you get whichever one’s higher.

Now, what happens if the ex-spouse dies? That’s an interesting question. Alright, so now we have to clarify here. You’ve been married for 10 years, and now you’re divorced. You’re now, 62 years old, and your ex-spouse dies. What happens here?

Tony Shore 13:37
I can still file and make a claim on their Social Security, just as if they were alive.

Daniel Wendol 13:45
Yes. So, okay, well, no. No. As if you were married. So if your ex-spouse dies, and your 62…in fact, you could do this at age 60. They lower the age. Normally you can’t take Social Security benefits until age 62. But if you lose a spouse, or an ex spouse, you can claim at 60. And you’d be claiming a survivor benefit. Remember how you can claim the higher of the two. So theoretically, if your ex spouse dies, and you were married for more than 10 years, you are a widow or widower and you can claim survivor benefits. Yeah, people don’t realize that. So, at age 60, you can claim against a deceased spouse.

Now, a lot of questions about this area, what does this mean? What do I get? You’re going to get a reduction, you’re not going to get the full benefit. So if you claim at 60, you’re going to get a lot less than you would get if you claim at your full retirement age. Let’s say your full retirement age is 67 because for more and more people that’s the new retirement age. 67 is the retirement age. Somewhere between 66 and 67, right? So if you wait until 67 and your ex-spouse dies, you’ll get 100% of that benefit. But if you take it at 60, you’re going to get less. You’re going to get less than 70% of that benefit. You’re going to get a reduction.

Tony Shore 15:15
Yeah, that’s not good. So, so basically though, my question is, let’s say my spouse dies, or I’m divorced, and my ex-spouse dies, and then I start collecting, let’s say, I’m 62, or 60, and I collect off of their Social Security benefit. I can’t, when I turn 62 or 66, then turn on my own benefit. I’ve already started and what I get is what I get, or can I then collect on my own social security as well?

Daniel Wendol 15:52
Yes, you can switch. Now normally, you can’t switch. You know, once you make an election, you can’t switch and they changed the rules in 2015, where you can’t file and suspend and do all those fun stuff. But they leave survivor benefits, particularly for widows or widowers, they leave the ability to switch back to your own. So you can do it a couple different ways. At 60, you could claim a survivor benefit because your ex-spouse of more than 10 years or your current spouse died Then at full retirement age, you could switch to your own, because theoretically, yours might be higher, and you’d get 100% of your own at that point. Now, you could do the reverse, let’s say that your deceased spouse has a high record, you really want that for later. And you don’t want to take it at 60 because you don’t want to get a reduction of it. You can wait to your claim on your own benefit at 62 and claim that until you hit your full retirement at 67 and then switch to the survivor benefit of your deceased spouse. So you got to do the math, which is the best way to go about doing it.

Tony Shore 17:10
And I was told there would be no math, which is why I have you. You’re the guy that can do the math for us.

Daniel Wendol 17:17
And I used to do it by pencil and paper, but now I use software to do it. So it’s all easy for me. I think you know, and I don’t want anyone to think that I work for the Social Security office. I have my son, one of my kids do the disclaimer at the end that talks about that. Yeah, there are so many intricacies here. And you’re going to get misinformation from all sorts of people. And some of the times I’ll stumble on things, but the key is we run through the numbers in the software. You have it in front of you, so that you go to the Social Security office with paper writing things down. And you have all the numbers in front of you and say, Hey, can I do this and this? And they’ll walk you through it because sometimes the people there may not know about all the intricacies. So you have to educate yourself and go in with the right answers. And yes, I like math and you might not. And if you’re listening, you might say, “I don’t know this math and did you just say I can get my ex spouse to? I don’t know.” I’ll put it in writing for you in paper that you can take with you and then you can reference when you’re having the conversation with the Social Security Office.

Tony Shore 18:23
I love the fact that you’ll run that Social Security maximization report for our listeners at no cost. All they have to do is come in and see you and set up an appointment to meet with you. I think that’s great. And yeah, you don’t work for and aren’t endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other government agency. But you are very knowledgeable when it comes to social security. And you’ve been doing this a long time. And you have that proprietary software, where you enter people’s personal data and it really gives the sweet spot where if you file here, that’s how you’re going to get the most based on the information we have. And I think that’s great, because people leave 10s of thousands of dollars, if not over $100,000 in some case over lifetime on the table that they could have had, but they didn’t because they didn’t maximize their Social Security, correct?

That’s right. And so especially people that lose a spouse, whether through divorce or through death, and they they have more opportunities with to maximize their social security than their counterparts that are married, believe it or not. There’s more flexibility there because the Social Security Office knows that they are more than likely in need of financial assistance at that point. Losing a spouse can be very expensive. So you have to really take it seriously and maximize your benefits as much as possible. A few other questions that I get related to this Tony, particularly from people that are divorce – can I claim against an ex-spouse if they’re not 62? So I’m 66 and I want to claim half from my ex-spouse, but they’re 58. Can I do that? No, you can’t. Your ex-spouse has to be 62.

So they themselves have to be eligible for Social Security, and be at the right age before you can collect on their Social Security benefit, right?

Daniel Wendol 20:24
Because then you’d have all the 70 year old women looking to marry you, Tony, so they can start claiming off your record. Right?

Tony Shore 20:29
Well, sure, I’ve got quite the record.

Daniel Wendol 20:39
I have a client who is 67 now. He wants to claim against his ex-spouse while he lets his continue to roll up until age 70, but he can’t because his ex-spouse is not yet 62. But as soon as she turns 62 he’s going to claim against hers and then he’s going to switchto his own at 70. So he’s he’s just chomping at the bit for her to age.

Tony Shore 21:01
Well, that’s what he gets for robbing the cradle though, right?

Daniel Wendol 21:04
Right. You know, you got to be careful, or you got to be the other way around. Also, you have to be divorced two years before you can file against an ex. So you can’t just get married and divorce.

Tony Shore 21:16
I’m glad you mentioned that because that’s, I mean, obviously, I’m not divorced, and I’m not worried about that. But for those who might be or end up in that situation, that’s good to know. So you have to wait two years after the divorce before you can file as well against them?

Daniel Wendol 21:30
Unless they’ve already filed. So if you divorce and they’re already on Social Security, yeah, you can claim. But if they have not yet filed for Social Security, and you get divorced, you can’t file against them, because you can file against an ex-spouse whether or not they file. That’s another question I get.

Tony Shore 21:45
And it doesnt affect how much they get either.

Daniel Wendol 21:48
Exactly. And they won’t even know about it.

Tony Shore 21:51
I think people are out there thinking well, I don’t want to take…I’m not married to them, but I don’t want to take their money that they need to live on. Some might want to do that. But the thing is, you’re not taking their money, you both can take the money off of it. It’s not reducing the benefit they get if you file on their Social Security. Right?

Daniel Wendol 22:14
And they can be remarried, it doesn’t matter. You’re not taking from their new spouse or their kids or anything like that. It’s separate. It’s just a formula at that point. So yeah, that’s a big question I get -“I can claim against my ex spouse and will he know that I’m claiming against it?” No. What if he gets remarried? It doesn’t matter. What if he would if he gets divorced again? It doesn’t matter. So you can have multiple ex-spouses claiming against your record and that doesn’t impact yours.

Tony Shore 22:45
Yeah. Imagine the Larry King scenario. We’d need a four hour show just to sort that all out. Imagine if you were his financial advisor or for some of his ex-spouses. I mean, what’s he been married now? Eight times?

Daniel Wendol 22:59
Yeah, but they all have to be 10 years in order for them to claim.

Tony Shore 23:04
He’s old enough. He could have been married eight times for 10 years each.

Daniel Wendol 23:07
I think for four is the max. If you play your cards right you might be able to get four different spouses to work off of. You don’t get to combine them all. You only get to pick the highest. Yeah, it’s another question I get.

Tony Shore 23:21
We’ll call that Larry King scenario.

Daniel Wendol 23:23
Yes. We should do a show on that. Yeah, that’s a good one. I guess we’re kind of doing that now.

Tony Shore 23:28
Yeah, well, yeah. Regarding Social Security, when it comes to retirement planning, and spousal benefits, and how divorce affects finances, you could write a book called The Larry King Scenario. What to do about your finances in a divorce. I don’t think Larry King would appreciate that.

Daniel Wendol 23:50
I bet you it would be interesting to do case studies on his ex-wives. You know, how much they getting in Social Security.

Tony Shore 23:55
I think he just divorced again. I heard something in the news not long ago, like a month ago. I can’t believe it.

Daniel Wendol 24:05
I don’t think he needs to worry about Social Security though.

Tony Shore 24:08
No, hopefully not. Or his spouses probably. Well, this has been a great topic, but we’re out of time. Dan, is there anything else you want to share? Maybe let our listeners know how they can set up that complimentary, no cost, no obligation consultation and get that Social Security maximization report.

Daniel Wendol 24:27
Yeah, I do a lot of social security seminars, but sometimes you just can’t make it you know, the timing isn’t right. But you could still get a Social Security Maximization Report at DolphinFinancialGroup.com. You can connect with me that way. I have software that you can work. It’s not very difficult. I don’t need much information. You could just connect with a call me I’ll give you the number. It’s 888-508-5935. Say, hey Dan, I want that Social Security report. I’ll get some information from you and I’ll be able to send it out. Sometimes you may not know certain things about your ex-spouse, but that’s okay. We could still do some scenarios and you can do some planning, especially if you lost a spouse. You need to know these things because you might be missing out of money as you just sit and wait to figure things out. It’s very important to take it seriously, like I said, and understand that there are some intricacies when it comes to marriage, death and divorce.

A quick story to end Tony, I had a couple come to my seminar and they said, can you help my mom? Her mom was 82. And she said, my mom doesn’t have Social Security, because she she lost her husband when he was in his 50s and she never had her own record. Can she claim against her deceased husband? I said, of course she can. I said unless she’s remarried and they said, yes, she is remarried. I said, well, then she can claim against her current spouse. And she said, well, her current spouse doesn’t have Social Security record either. He’s not a US citizen. And so long story short, the recommendation not directly from me, but I said maybe…perhaps…you get divorced and stay together. And in fact, that’s what her 82 year old mother did. She got divorced from her current spouse stayed together but on paper divorce, opening up the window for her to claim the spousal survivor benefit from her first husband. She just didn’t know she could do that. And now she’s getting extra money. And thanks to me for just giving her that a little tidbit of information. I’m not recommending people go out and get divorced. But something to think about Tony.

Tony Shore 26:38
Yeah. Yeah, I know it is a tough topic talking about the passing of a spouse, or what to do when you get married or the death of an ex-spouse or divorce. But I’m glad you covered this topic and listeners that does it for today’s episode of Dolphin Financial Radio with our host Dan Wendol.

Thanks for listening to Dolphin Financial Radio