Mary Beth Franklin

Retirement 2.0blog

Mary Beth Franklin - also known as the 'client whisperer' - on what your clients really want when they talk about retirement.

Social Security: More on how to collect on your ex

Even a self-professed expert gets it wrong sometimes

By Mary Beth Franklin

Dec 12, 2012 @ 10:05 am (Updated 3:09 pm) EST

Social Security

Recently I committed what, back in my Catholic school days, would be called a “sin of omission.” In my latest blog about Social Security benefits -- 'Til Decade Do Us Part"-- I left out a key phrase and some of my readers may have been confused as a result. Mea culpa.

To clarify, as a divorced spouse, you have the same rights as a married spouse to a spousal benefit as long as you were married for at least 10 years and you are not currently married.

That part was clear.

It's the next part that got me into trouble. I wrote: “But there's one exception. If you wait until age 60 or later to remarry, you can still collect on your ex if that would create a bigger benefit than collecting on your current spouse's earnings record.” I left out the key phrase “you can still collect a survivor benefit on you ex”.

An eagle-eyed Investment News reader caught my mistake. Douglas Van Allen posted in the comment section: The only time a divorced spouse who has remarried after age 60 can get divorced spouse benefits is when the ex-spouse has died.” Absolutely right!

The column has been updated to reflect the key phrase “but there's one exception when it comes to collecting survivor benefits on you ex.”

So, to recap: you must be unmarried to collect spousal retirement benefits on your ex but you may be able to collect survivor benefits on you ex even if you remarry, as long as that subsequent marriage occurred after you turned 60.

Yes, Social Security is complicated. The numerous rules and exceptions may seem overwhelming, but just imagine how your clients feel. Many advisers deal with retirement income decisions every day. Most clients make these decisions just once. That's why they rely on you for advice. And that's why I'm trying to make your job a little easier by unraveling the mysteries of Social Security, which for many of your clients, may be one of the most important retirement income decisions they ever make.