Can I get retroactive spousal benefits from Social Security?


Q. I am 62 and I was married for 28 years from 1984 to 2012. We divorced and my husband died in 2017 at age 60. I have never remarried. I called the Social Security office in July of 2020, when my ex-husband would have been 63, and I have been collecting his benefits now for five months. Is there any way to go back and collect on the year that I missed? And I turned 62, so can I collect both of our benefits?
— Curious

A. We’re sorry to hear about your ex-husband.

As you know, you are eligible to collect on your ex’s Social Security records because you are over age 60, you were married for more than 10 years and you did not remarry. Note that you can remarry over age 60 and still qualify.

But it’s unfortunate that you didn’t start collecting when you first turned age 60, said Amber Leach, a certified divorce financial analyst with AXA Advisors/R.I.C.H. Planning Group in Morristown.

You are unable to collect on those past benefits, she said.

“You are unable to collect both benefits at the same time so you will have to ultimately make a decision of when to switch,” she said. “Social Security will send you a letter to notify you when your personal benefit is larger than the widowed spousal benefit you are currently receiving. “

You can also see your statements and find benefit information online at

Some of the factors to consider are your longevity and your need for income, Leach said. What is your current health and expected longevity? If you have a significant health issue then collecting early might make sense for you, she said.

“On the other hand, if longevity runs in your family then delaying receiving your highest benefit at age 70 should be considered,” she said.

Also, consider what other assets you can use to fund your lifestyle besides taking Social Security.

“If you can access funds from these other accounts then you can let your personal benefit continue to grow in Social Security,” she said. “From full retirement age to age 70, your personal benefit will grow at 8% a year. If, on the other hand, you take your benefit early, you will permanently reduce your benefit for the rest of your life.”

You may want to work with a financial advisor who can help you analyze your options.

“Through planning software, they can run different scenarios and show you how delaying your Social Security will impact your retirement,” she said. “They can walk you through the factors you should consider for when you want to take Social Security.”

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This story was originally published on March 18, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.