This week’s question comes from Lori.
I claimed social security 3 years ago under my ex-husband’s benefits. I was told when I applied at my local social security office that upon his death, I would get an additional benefit. Will social security inform me of his should it occur? If not, how will I know and will I need to apply for this additional benefit?
Lori, you ask an important question since many people (usually women) find themselves in a similar situation. You were married for at least 10 years and you are not currently married to someone else. Moreover, you stand to increase your social security benefits when your ex-spouse dies by claiming a survivor’s benefit on his or her record. As with many people in your situation, you are no longer in contact with your ex-spouse so you are uncertain as to when to apply for benefits.
Will the SSA notify you of the death of your ex-spouse? In your case, the answer is “yes.” But in many other circumstances, the opposite is true.
You are presently receiving benefits on your ex-husband’s record. Assuming he dies before you, the SSA will let you know when he has died because your spousal benefit will stop. At that point, you can apply for survivor’s benefits. Suppose your ex-husband dies in June and you are notified in July that your ex-spousal benefits have ended. If you apply immediately for survivor’s benefits, you can request that your survivor’s benefits begin in August (with the actual payment made a month later). If your application takes several weeks to process, you will receive a retroactive payment for the months that you should have been paid.
It is different story if you are not receiving ex-spousal benefits. In this case, the SSA does not notify you of your ex-spouse’s death, even though you are now eligible for survivor’s benefits. The burden now would be on you to find out about his death. For many, the easiest way to find out about his death is contact the SSA every few months and ask: “Is my ex-husband still alive?”
If you have reached your full retirement age, you can request retroactive payments for up to 6 months. So, you do not stand to lose anything by checking with the SSA every 6 months.
I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.
In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.