Retirement

Understanding Spouse’s Benefits

January 24, 2019 • By

Last Updated: January 24, 2019

" "Marriage is a cultural institution that exists all over the world. Having a partner means sharing many things including a home and other property. Understanding how your future retirement might affect your spouse is important. When you’re planning for your fun and vibrant golden years, here are a few things to remember:

Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to 50 percent of your spouse’s full retirement age amount if you are full retirement age when you take it. If you qualify for your own retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, we always pay your own benefit first.  You cannot receive spouse’s benefits unless your spouse is receiving his or her retirement benefits (except for divorced spouses). If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to reach retirement age, when you add spouse’s benefits later, your own retirement portion remains reduced which causes the total retirement and spouses benefit together to total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more on our website.

On the other hand, if your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, your survivor benefit will be reduced, but may be higher than what your spouse received.

If the deceased worker started receiving reduced retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a special rule called the retirement insurance benefit limit may apply to the surviving spouse. The retirement insurance benefit limit is the maximum survivor benefit you may receive. Generally, the limit is the higher of:

  • The reduced monthly retirement benefit to which the deceased spouse would have been entitled if they had lived, or
  • 82.5 percent of the unreduced deceased spouse’s monthly benefit if they had started receiving benefits at their full retirement age (rather than choosing to receive a reduced retirement benefit early).

Knowing how your finances affect your spouse’s can help both of you avoid future impacts on your incomes. When it comes to information, we have over 80 years of experience. Access a wealth of useful information by visiting our benefits planners.


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Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Comments

  1. Debbie

    My significant other and I have been together for 19 years. (We did the domestic partner paperwork for the state years ago, but that’s not recognized in federal situations.)

    Now that he is retired, he wants to get married to provide benefits for me (I am 63). The question is, how long do you have to be married to receive spousal benefits?

    • Vonda

      Hi Debbie, thanks for using our blog. In cases where a common-law marriage may be involved, Social Security follows the state laws. So, check the laws in your state.

      According to current policy, a spouse must meet a 1 year duration-of-marriage requirement just before filing for the spousal benefit. Check out our Benefits For Your Spouse web page for more details.

  2. Gloria

    I have a government retirement and my SS benefit was reduced . If I become a widow will I be able to draw from my husbands SS which is much more than mine.

  3. Lynn Corpuz

    Hi, I’m concerned of my 3 older siblings all over 70 yrs old living in Hilo, Hawaii, due to the Covid-19 I can’t go there to help them apply for their SS benefits which they are already gualified .Can I help them apply on line even I live in other state? I have all the copies of the required documents including their 2020,W-2 .They can’t speak or understand well in English.Let me know please.I’ve been calling SS number but waited after one hour then they hang up on me.

    • Doug C

      If your siblings agree, you can create an account on the Social Security (SS) website for each of them and use your cell phone number for a Social Security code (each time you log in). You will need their SS numbers to create their accounts.
      Once you are logged in to their account, you can apply for benefits for each of them from anywhere.

  4. JOHN MENLEY

    my wife just died tuesday march 2, she and i are both on disability i was wondering if i would receive any of her disability check because that was about one third of our monthly income. and without her check it might get a little hard to pay the house payment

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, John. Typically, the funeral director notifies us of an individual’s passing by contacting the local Social Security office. To verify this information was reported, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information.

      Check out our Factsheet on How Social Security Can Help When a Family Member Dies.

      There is a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 that can be paid to the surviving spouse. You would need to call and make an appointment to file for that benefit. If you do not want to file for widower’s benefits at that time, you do not have to. Once you’re ready to receive widower’s benefits, you will need to call again to make an appointment.

      Check out our If You Are The Survivor web page for details. We hope this helps!

  5. Ron Phelps

    I’m 75 (1946) and the low age earner, wife is 71 (1950) and the high wage earner, both are drawing our own benefits. Can I apply and draw on her benefits?

    • Vonda

      Hi Ron, thanks for using our blog. We will always pay your own retirement benefit first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. However, the spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your wife’s full retirement amount (not her reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional spouse’s benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your wife’s full retirement benefit.

      Generally, during the initial interview when applying for Social Security benefits, we typically explore all other benefits that could yield you a higher benefit amount. To find out if you are eligible for a higher benefit amount, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

      • Doug C

        I will begin receiving SS this year in July. My wife will be eligible for one-half of my benefits. She is presently on SS at a lower amount.
        My question is:
        Will she start receiving the higher benefits automatically or does she have to “apply” for the spousal benefit?

        • Vonda

          Hi Doug, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. If your wife is receiving a reduced retirement benefit, when she does apply for additional spouse’s benefits on your record, her own retirement portion remains reduced. When you add spouse’s benefits later, the total retirement and spouses benefit together will total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more about this at our Benefits for Spouses web page.

          Our system is set up to take applications four months in advance. When you’re ready to apply, you can apply online. When you apply, you are establishing a lead for your wife’s spousal benefits. It is not automatic, she will need to apply.

          If you are unable or would rather not apply online, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  6. ishamar Evans

    Hi I need a award letter please can y’all send it to my address 1609east174street#7B Bronx NY 10472

  7. ishamar Evans

    I need my birth certificate please send it to my address 1609east174street Apt 7B Bronx NY 10472

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