My wife is also a U.S. citizen and 68 years old. She retired this year and began drawing her Social Security benefit of $590 per month. We've been married for six years.
Can I draw a spousal benefit now, or only after I've completed the 40 quarters necessary to become eligible for my own benefit?
After I qualify for a spousal benefit (which will likely be for a larger amount than my own benefit), how long can I continue to draw it -- for the rest of my life, or only until I'm eligible for my own benefit? What happens if my wife pre-deceases me? Would I then I have to revert to my own (smaller) benefit?
Finally, my wife had been divorced from her first husband for five years before we married. They were married for more than 15 years and her ex-husband's Social Security benefit would be much higher than hers. Can she get a retroactive spousal benefit for the five year period in which she was divorced and unmarried? --VT, via email
A: Let's begin with you. You can claim a spousal Social Security benefit right now. It doesn't matter that you're not yet eligible for a benefit based on your own work record.
In fact, it wouldn't matter if you never qualify for Social Security on your own work record. You already meet all the requirements to collect a spousal benefit: You've been married at least one year, your spouse has applied for her benefit, and you are over 62 years old.
And at 68, you're over your full retirement age, so you qualify for the maximum spousal benefit, which is 50% of the amount your wife receives.
The fact that you're over your full retirement age also means you don't have to worry about an annual earnings cap. You won't forfeit any of your benefit regardless of the amount you earn.
You say your spousal benefit is likely to be larger than your own. In that case, you'll continue receiving the spousal benefit even after you're eligible to receive your own. You can never collect your own benefit and your spousal benefit at the same time, but you always get the larger of the two amounts.
If your wife predeceases you, your spousal benefit will stop and you'll get a survivor benefit, which will be equal to 100% her benefit at the time of her death.
Okay, what about your wife's previous marriage?
She can't collect retroactively on her ex-husband's work record. (Social Security benefits are rarely retroactive.) And she can't collect on it now, because she remarried.
But if you predecease her, it's a different story:
She'll once again meet the requirement of being an unmarried former spouse of her ex-husband. As a result, she'll be eligible to collect an amount equal to 50% of her ex-husband's Social Security benefit while he's alive -- and a 100% survivor's benefit at his death.
Please send your questions to Lynn@LynnBrennersFamilyFinance.com. I'm sorry I can't respond personally to every email. Questions are only addressed online.