Ask Larry: Will Social Security Notify Me Of Possible Benefits If My Ex Dies?

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Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column responds to questions about whether Social Security will tell you of an ex’s passing, when spousal benefits can be collected, divorced spousal and survivor’s benefits, the effect of retirement benefits on child disability benefits and unexpected Social Security payments. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

Will Social Security Notify Me Of Possible Benefits If My Ex Dies?​​

Hi Larry, I know there are potentially available divorced survivor’s benefits if an ex is deceased. Is there any way to find out for certain if my ex is deceased and if these benefits might be available? Many ex-spouses have no further contact with each other, for obvious reasons, so this information isn’t always easy to come by. Thanks, Howard

Hi Howard, The Social Security Administration (SSA) is generally notified when someone dies, either from funeral homes or via state death registries. SSA can tell a person if their ex-spouse is deceased, but SSA often has no way of knowing a person’s marital history. As a result, if someone thinks that they might qualify for either divorced spousal or surviving divorced spousal benefits, they should check with Social Security. Best, Larry

Can My Husband Collect Spousal Benefits Even If I’m Not Collecting My Benefits?​​

Hi Larry, My husband, who will be 64 in July and is not collecting his Social Security retirement benefit, and I, who will be 62 in December got married September 2017. Can he collect a spousal benefit on my record when I turn 62 in December even though I will not be collecting my retirement benefit at that time? If not, when can he collect his spousal benefit on my record? Thanks, Gail

Hi Gail, You would have to be drawing your Social Security retirement benefits in order for your husband to potentially qualify for Social Security spousal benefits, and he could only qualify for spousal benefits if 50% of your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to your full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, is higher than his own PIA. Since your husband was born after 1/1/1954, when he files for either retirement benefits on his own record or spousal benefits on your record, he’ll be deemed to be filing for both. He could only be paid essentially the higher of those two rates, and his benefit rate would be reduced for age if he files prior to his full retirement age (FRA). You and your husband may want to use an expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as my company’s software or other very precise software, to compare all of your filing options and determine your best overall strategy. Best, Larry

If I Die After Reaching Age 70 Will My Ex-Wife Receive The Full Amount That I Was Receiving?​​

Hi Larry, My ex wife to be and I have been married 10 years. She is 67 and started Social Security disability at 54. I filed and suspended my retirement benefits in 2014 at 66 and then she received spousal benefits beginning at 64. I started receiving my Social Security retirement benefits last year at 70. If I die, will she receive what I was receiving at the time of my death? Thanks, Ben

Hi Ben, Yes. What she would actually receive in that event is her own benefit rate, plus a widow’s (or divorced survivor) benefit equal to the difference between her own retirement benefit rate and your retirement benefit rate. The net result is that her combined rate would be equal to your retirement benefit rate, inclusive of the delayed retirement credits that you’ve earn by waiting until 70 to start drawing your retirement benefits. Best, Larry

Will Anything Happen With My Son’s Benefits After I Retire?

Hi Larry, I am soon turning 66 and plan to retire at that time and apply for my full Social Security retirement benefits. I have an adult unmarried adult disabled son with a mental disorder. He lives with my working wife and I, and is on Medicaid. Will anything happen with his benefits after I retire? Thanks, Carl

Hi Carl, It sounds like your son may qualify for childhood disability benefits (CDB) or what were formerly known as disabled adult child’s (DAC) benefits when you start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits. And if he does qualify, your wife may also qualify for child-in-care spousal benefits on your record.

If your son receives Supplemental Security Income (SSI), then those benefits would likely be offset roughly dollar for dollar by the amount of any CDBs that he receives. Or if he qualifies for Social Security disability benefits (SSDI) based on his own work record, he could only be paid the higher of his SSDI or CDB rate. Medicaid is a needs-based program, so your son’s eligibility for that program could be affected if his entitlement to CDB increases the total amount of his income. There are a number of variables involved that could affect your optimal filing strategy, such as your wife’s age and whether or not she qualifies for Social Security benefits on her own record. Best, Larry

Why Did I Receive An Unexpected Payment From Social Security?​​

Hi Larry, Why did I get an unexpected social security deposit to my account mid-month recently? I usually receive payment the 3rd day of the month. There was also a slight increase above my usual amount. Thanks, Jack

Hi Jack, There are a number of possibilities. Social Security runs many different automated processes that can result in benefit rate adjustments or payments of retroactive benefits. You should get a letter from Social Security explaining the payment, but those types of letters can arrive up to two weeks after the electronic payment is received. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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