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Ask Bob: Can I Receive Social Security Benefits Under My Current or Former Husband's Record?

A reader wants to know if she can receive Social Security benefits from her husband and his ex-wife.

Question

My second husband went out on his first wife’s Social Security after she passed. We have been married 24 years. My first husband went out on Social Security disability insurance when he was in his early 40s. I am collecting on my own Social Security. Can I also, after 24 years, go on his? On his ex-wife’s?

Answer

This, said Jim Blankenship, author of "A Social Security Owner’s Manual," is a complicated set of circumstances that could benefit you, depending on the facts.

Here’s what can be gleaned from your question: Your second husband (to whom you're still currently married) is receiving Social Security survivor benefits based on his late ex-wife's earnings record. Your first husband, who is presumably still living, has been receiving Social Security disability benefits since his early 40s.

Given those facts, your question is whether you can begin receiving benefits based on either your current husband's record or your ex-husband's record.

First, Blankenship said you would never be eligible for a benefit based on your ex-husband's current wife, or your current husband's ex-wife. “Essentially if you are not currently and never were married to the individual, you're not eligible for benefits based on their earnings,” he said.

So, assuming the facts are understood correctly, here are your options:

If your marriage to your current husband occurred after you reached age 60, Blankenship said you could be eligible for survivor benefits based on your first husband's record after he dies, assuming you were married to the first husband for at least 10 years. “Otherwise, if the first husband is still living, you would not be eligible for any benefits based on your first husband's record while you're currently married,” he said.

Likewise, if your marriage to the first husband was for less than 10 years, you would not be eligible for any benefits based on the first husband's record, living or dead, said Blankenship.

“Lastly, if your current marriage occurred before you reached age 60, you would not be eligible for survivor benefits based on your first husband's record while you're still married to your current husband,” he said.

If your current husband were to die, however, you could be eligible for survivor benefits based on his record, said Blankenship.

And, you may also be currently eligible for spousal benefits based on your current husband's record while he is still living.

In all of these cases, however, these benefits would only be useful to you if they were more than your own benefit based on your own earnings record, said Blankenship.

“In addition, if your current husband dies and your first husband is still living, you could be eligible for spousal benefits based on the first husband's record,” he said. “Again, this assumes you were married to the first husband for at least 10 years, and the spousal benefit is more than your own current benefit, or if it was advantageous to take the spousal benefit versus the survivor benefit based on your current husband's record upon his death.”

Blankenship’s best advice: Gather as much information as you can about your first husband (especially his Social Security number, if you have it), along with your divorce decree, marriage certificate, and other pertinent information, and talk to the Social Security Administration about what your options are.

Got questions? Get answers!

Email Robert.Powell@maven.io

Question

My second husband went out on his first wife’s Social Security after she passed. We have been married 24 years. My first husband went out on Social Security disability insurance when he was in his early 40s. I am collecting on my own Social Security. Can I also, after 24 years, go on his? On his ex-wife’s?

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