I already get Social Security. Can I get my ex’s benefits too?

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Q. I am 71 and collecting Social Security. I was married one time for 13 years. My wife divorced me when I was 44 and she was 34, born in 1960. I have never remarried. I have never lived with anyone else. Can I collect my ex-wife’s Social Security full benefits when she reaches the age of 66 and I’ll be, lord willing, 76?
— Hopeful

A. We’re glad you’re trying to plan, but we may have a surprise or two for you.

There are several items that come into play to be eligible for Social Security benefits based on a former spouse’s earnings record.

You must have been married to that spouse for 10 years or more, you and your ex must be at least age 62 and you are unmarried, said Joseph Sarnecki, a certified financial planner with U.S. Financial Services in Fairfield.

As you are eligible and collecting retirement benefits on your own record, the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays you that amount first.

“If 50% of the benefit on your former spouse’s record is higher than your current benefit, you will get an additional amount so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount,” he said. “The max amount is 50% of the former spouse ‘s retirement benefit, not 100%. If your former spouse was deceased, you may be eligible for a survivor’s benefit of up to 100%.”

Sarnecki offered this example. Let’s say your benefit was $1,000 per month, and your former spouse’s benefit was $1,500. You would continue to receive $1,000 as this is higher than $750 — half your ex’s benefit. If your former spouse ‘s benefit was $2,500, you would get your $1,000 plus an additional $250 to get your benefit up to 50% of your former spouse’s. Should your former spouse pass, you may then be eligible for the $2,500, he said.

This does not affect you, but if someone filed before reaching their full retirement age, the benefit will be permanently reduced, he said.

One important note is your former spouse only needs to be 62 for you to collect off her work record, he said.

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This story was originally published on Dec. 24. 2021.

NJMoneyHelp.com 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.