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Can I collect Social Security on my spouse's record?

Yes. You may be able to do this in the form of spousal benefits, or as survivor benefits if you are a widow or widower.

Depending on your age upon claiming, spousal benefits can range from 32.5 percent to 50 percent of your husband’s or wife’s primary insurance amount (the retirement benefit to which he or she is entitled at full retirement age, or FRA). Regardless of the amount of the spousal benefit, it does not affect the amount of your mate’s retirement payment.

You qualify for spousal benefits if:

  • Your spouse is already collecting retirement benefits.
  • You have been married for at least a year.
  • You are at least 62 (unless you are caring for a child who is under 16 or disabled, in which case the age rule does not apply).  

You can collect benefits on a spouse’s work record regardless of whether you also worked. If your own retirement benefit is lower than your spousal benefit, Social Security will pay you the higher amount.

To qualify for survivor benefits, you must have been:

  • Married to the deceased for at least nine months (unless the death is accidental or occurs in the line of military duty, in which case there is no minimum time period).
  • At least age 60, unless you are disabled (then it’s 50) or caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 or disabled (no age minimum).

In most cases, survivor benefits are based on the benefit amount the late spouse was receiving, or was eligible to receive, when he or she died.

How much of that amount you are entitled to depends on the age when you file. The proportion rises from 71.5 percent if you claim survivor benefits at 60 (50 if disabled) to 100 percent if you wait until your full retirement age (which is currently 66 but is gradually rising to 67). If the survivor benefit is based on your caring for a child, you receive 75 percent of the deceased’s benefit, regardless of your own age when you file.

Keep in mind

  • Your spousal benefit is not affected by the age at which your husband or wife claimed Social Security benefits. It will always be based on your mate’s primary insurance amount.
  • With survivor benefits, if your late spouse boosted his or her Social Security payment by waiting past FRA to file, your survivor benefit would also increase.
  • Your spousal or survivor benefits may be reduced, however, if you are under full retirement age and continue to work.
  • Social Security is phasing in the FRA increase differently for different types of benefits. For retirement and spousal benefits, full retirement age will reach 67 for people born in 1960 and after. For survivor benefits, it’s 1962 and after. 

Published October 10, 2018

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