Many Americans grapple with deciding when to tap into their Social Security retirement benefits. While withdrawal options abound, it’s equally important for spouses to understand how these choices might impact them.

Eligibility for Spousal Benefits

To qualify for Social Security benefits as a spouse, certain criteria typically need to be met. Here’s a breakdown of common scenarios:

Spousal Benefits: If you and your spouse are 62 and receive Social Security retirement or disability benefits, your spouse may be eligible for spousal benefits. The benefit amount is usually based on your earnings history.

Survivor Benefits: In the event of your passing, your spouse may be eligible for survivor benefits based on your work record. To qualify, your spouse must be at least 60 (or 50 if disabled) or caring for a child under 16 or a disabled child receiving benefits on your record.

Divorced Spouse Benefits: Even after a divorce, your former spouse may qualify for benefits on your record if your marriage lasted at least 10 years, they are 62 or older, and haven’t remarried. However, if your ex-spouse remarries, they generally cannot receive benefits on your record unless that subsequent marriage ends (through death, divorce, or annulment).

If your ex-spouse was born before January 2, 1954, and has already reached full retirement age, they can choose to receive only the divorced spouse’s benefit and delay receiving their own retirement benefit until a later date.

If your ex-spouse’s birthday is January 2, 1954 or later, the option to take only one benefit at full retirement age no longer exists. If your ex-spouse files for one benefit, they will be effectively filing for all retirement or spousal benefits.

Child-in-Care Spouse Benefits: If your spouse cares for your child under 16 or if the child became disabled before turning 22, they may be eligible for benefits even if they are younger than 62.

Applying for Benefits

Spouses can apply for benefits by visiting their local Social Security office or applying online through the Social Security Administration’s website. Documents and information such as proof of age, marriage, and children’s birth certificates will be required. It’s highly recommended that your spouse contact the Social Security Administration to discuss their situation and ensure they fully understand their options and eligibility requirements.

If you’re claiming Social Security retirement benefits, your application may take at least six weeks to process. However, if your application has incorrect information or the agency is backlogged, it could take up to three months before benefits begin. If you don’t need the income right away, waiting to apply for benefits can pay off in the long run. Consider working with a financial professional to incorporate these benefits into income planning during retirement.


Author Jonathon D. Merickel Portfolio Advisor

Jonathon has been involved in the financial services industry since 2002. He earned a bachelor of science degree from Syracuse University and an MBA from Le Moyne College.

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