Understanding Spouse’s Benefits

January 24, 2019 • By

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Last Updated: May 25, 2021

" "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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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Faye

    This article makes no sense.

  2. Katie C.

    This is word salad, it makes no sense. It doesn’t parse. PLEASE try again, give a list of terms and define them. It’s a shame we taxpayers are paying for this mumbo-jumbo.

  3. Luis F.

    mi conyuge tiene 61 años a que edad ella puede jubilar ?
    Ahora yo recibo 1000 dolares ,cuanto ella recibira cuando se jubile?


  4. Judy R.

    In the instance of a divorced spouse, married 30+ years, does she have to wait until spouse dies to collect on his account? She collects on her own acct.

    • Kenny O.

      Hello Judy. Thank you for this question. The short answer to your question is No. You may be able to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record if:
      • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years;
      • You are unmarried;
      • You are age 62 or older;
      • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits and,
      The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

      For more information, please visit our Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced. Hope this helps!

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Judy, thank you for your question. Social Security has divorced spouse’s benefits as well as surviving divorced spouse’s benefits.

      You would only file for divorced spouse’s benefits if your own full retirement benefit amount was less than half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit amount. However, if your former spouse passes away, you could be eligible for a higher survivors benefit amount.

  5. Randy L.

    Difficult to make sense with this

  6. JOHN C.


  7. Sonya

    All we are trying to find out is where is the benefit from my stepfather going now that my mother is deceased? His pension needs routing info in order to stop it.

    • Vonda V.

      Thank you for contacting us, Sonya. Unfortunately, and because of security reasons, we do not have access to personal records in this blog and cannot assist you.

      To inquire about a benefit, your stepfather will have to contact his local office or call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

  8. Patricia j.

    Prior to retiring a social security supervisor held a seminar and stated that I could/would receive benefit monies from my ex-husbands account, even though we had divorced and remarried. I worked many years including 20 years with the Veterans Administration with CSRS. My assigned Social Security agent refused to allow the husband’s benefit. I think I deserve the extra income but have hit a brick wall. Do I have to hire an attorney?

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Patricia: If you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of your Social Security spouse’s, widow’s, or widower’s benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO. For additional details, check out our Government Pension Offset factsheet.

  9. Raymond N.

    My Wife receives more SS than I , IF she dies before me , would my SS be raised to her Benefit ?

    • Kenny O.

      Hi Raymond, thank you for your question. Your survivor benefit amount is based on your wife’s earnings. The more she paid into Social Security, the higher your benefit will be. If she is already receiving reduced benefits and then dies, your survivors benefits will be based on that amount.

      Generally, widow or widowers benefit is payable as early as age 60 (for a reduced benefit) or a full widows benefit at full retirement age or older.

      Use our Survivors Planner Planning For Your Survivors. Hope this helps.

    • OP

      Raymond, the short answer is YES.

  10. Richard W.

    I just read the above article concerning my spouse’s
    Social Security benefits and now I’m totally confused. Right now I am 65 and my wife is 67. I receive disability benefits from the VA and the same with Social Security disability. Should I predecease my wife she will start to receive only a small amount of what I now get from the VA. I had been told from friends that my wife would loose her SSA benefits and would gain mine. Obviously this is in error. Just how do I calculate the amount that she will receive

    • Kenny O.

      Hello Richard, thank you for your question. Your wife’s survivor amount is based on your earnings. The more you paid into Social Security, the higher her benefit will be. If you are already receiving reduced benefits when you die, survivors benefits are based on that amount.

      Widows benefit are payable as early as age 60 (for a reduced benefit) or a full widows benefit at full retirement age or older.

      If your wife is receiving retirement benefits on her own record at the time of your demise, she can only apply for benefits as a widow if her retirement benefit amount is less than the benefits she would receive as a survivor.

      Use our Survivors Planner to look at how your family members are protected if you die.

      As for your Veteran Administration benefits, Generally, there is no reduction of Social Security benefits due to military retirement benefits. Please visit our Benefit Planner: Military Retirement And Social Security Benefits for more information. However, Social Security survivor benefits may affect benefits payable under the optional Department of Defense Survivors Benefit Plan. Your spouse may want to check with the Department of Defense or military advisor for more information.

      We hope this helps.

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