As a woman, you are probably aware that you are statistically expected to outlive your husband. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention 2015 Mortality Report, the average woman in the United States will live to age 81.2 years, and the average man will live 76.3 years. That means you can expect to live longer during your retirement years—and since you may be single for several of those years, it is important to evaluate what your income situation will be. Planning ahead of time is paramount in being able to live financially securely during your retirement years—especially once you are living on just one income. What sources of income will you have? How will those change if you become divorced or widowed?
Most people know that they need to contribute to a 401k, IRA, and have some extra money in savings to supplement their Social Security. But did you know that Social Security benefits are not guaranteed? This has nothing to do with the solvency of the federal government’s Social Security fund, or potentially increasing the retirement age, but rather, your actual ability to collect the benefit. Many people don’t realize that each must qualify to receive Social Security benefits. So just because your husband qualifies for Social Security benefits does not mean that you do—and should you find yourself divorced or widowed, you will need to qualify to receive those benefits on your own merit.
Do you have enough credits to be eligible for Social Security benefits?
Did you know that you need at least 40 credits to qualify for retirement benefits from Social Security? Even if your husband was the primary wage earner, you still might need to qualify individually. Each year, you can earn one credit for every $1300 of earnings, up to four credits per year. Why is this important? Because if you have been a homemaker for the last 35 years and you find that you are single in retirement due to divorce, you may not qualify for social security benefits the same way that a surviving spouse does.
Benefits if you are a Surviving Spouse
- If your spouse has passed away, you may be able to get full benefits at full retirement age, even if you don’t have 40 credits. The full retirement age for survivors is age 66 for people born in 1945-1956, and the full retirement age will steadily increase to age 67 for people born in 1962 or later; however, you can get reduced benefits as early as age 60. If you are a surviving spouse and are disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.
- If you and your deceased spouse have a child younger than age 16 or disabled, who are receiving Social Security benefits, you can receive benefits at any age, if you are taking care of that child.
- If you’re already getting benefits at the time that your husband dies, you should still contact Social Security. Whether your current benefit is based on your spouse’s work or your work, you may qualify for a higher benefit as a widow.
Benefits if you are a Surviving Divorced Spouse
- Even if you’ve been divorced, at age 60 or older (50-59 if disabled) can get benefits, if your marriage lasted at least ten years.
Benefits if you get Remarried
- Typically, you won’t be able to get widow’s benefits if you remarry before age 60. However, if you get remarried after age 60, age 50 if you’re disabled, it won’t prevent you from getting benefit payments based on your former husband. If you are older than age 62, you can get benefits on your new spouse’s work, if those benefits would be higher.
How to apply for Social Security benefits
If you’re not currently getting Social Security benefits, apply for survivors benefits immediately because, for some claims, benefits are paid from the time you apply and not from the time your spouse died. You can apply via telephone or in person at your local Social Security office. Here are the documents that you should have available:
- Proof of death— from the funeral home or death certificate
- Your Social Security number, and your spouse’s SSN
- Your birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate, if you’re has passed away
- Your divorce papers, if applicable
- Dependent children’s Social Security numbers, and birth certificates, if applicable
- Your deceased spouse’s W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year
- The name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be deposited directly into your account.
Katie E. Moore, CDFA, is a Financial Planner and Certified Divorce Financial Analyst with Finivi. Katie is passionate about empowering savvy independent women, and women in transition due to a divorce, the death of a spouse, a career change, or other significant life event to expand their knowledge and build their confidence regarding money and investing.
To see how I may be able to assist you in determining the Social Security claiming strategies available to you, and how to best maximize your lifetime benefits, call me at (800)530-6635 for a complimentary consultation or click here to schedule online.