Claiming Social Security from an Ex
From time to time I get a question from someone who is looking to claim off of their ex spouse's social security record, while allowing theirs to continue to grow and defer with the thought they'll flip over to their own benefit later on. This was a strategy that used to exist, however Social Security has changed the rules, and you can no longer claim someone else's benefit while allowing yours to continue to defer and grow. You CAN however claim on a benefit other than your own, if you meet certain criteria.
So you want to claim off of an ex spouse's record? Maybe your former spouse was a high wage earner. Or maybe you didn't pay into the social security system for part of your work career. Or maybe you paid in a relatively small amount, and as a result your own benefit is not very large. Social Security will allow you to claim off of the benefit record of a former spouse as long as a few things are true. First of all you have to have been married to that person for at least 10 years. Secondly you have to be old enough to receive a social security benefit, so that means you have to be at least 62 years old. Finally you cannot have remarried. As long as those three things are true you can claim off of your ex spouse's social security benefit. The way it typically works is that you can receive 50% of their benefit amount as your own. So you won't get the same amount as what they would receive, but if your earnings record was low, it still may be beneficial to receive an amount based on their record.
When did File and Defer Go Away?
The example I originally gave about claiming a spousal benefit while allowing yours to continue to grow was a strategy often referred to as file and defer. It was a nice strategy for the right person that allowed them to maximize what they would take out of the system. At the end of 2015 through the congressional budgeting process, they eliminated the ability to file and defer. You simply can't do it any more, they closed the loophole. After this change if you file on a spouse's (or ex-spouses) record, Social Security is operating on something that is called "deemed filing". Deemed filing says, if you claim off of a spouse's record, you are deemed to have filed on your record as well. That allows you to still claim off of an ex-spouse's record, but it also freezes your benefit amount at that time.
So should you file now? Or later?
As we know with Social Security, the longer you wait to take it, the more it grows, and the higher the benefit amount will be up until you reach age 70. So you can take it early at 62 and receive a lower amount. Or you can take it anywhere between 62 and 70 and the longer you wait, the larger the benefit amount. This is also true with claiming off of someone else's record. The longer you wait, the larger the benefit amount.
Now it's important to note that this article deals with claiming off of an ex-spouses record. That is presuming you are divorced. The rules are very different for a widowed spouse. At that point you are dealing with Social Security survivor benefits, which is a completely separate topic. If you have Social Security related questions feel free to reach out via the contact info below or using the contact us section of the site. We're happy to help!