Social Security: When Your Ex-spouse May Be Your Best Friend
The Wealth Technology Group
By: Gary F. Thomas, JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA
Earlier this year, I was conducting a workshop for a small group of clients and their friends. Most had not retired yet, and the discussion turned to Social Security.
After the workshop, a guest of one of my clients approached me somewhat timidly. For example’s sake I’ll call her Mary. Mary left college to support her husband, who was in dental school. Almost immediately after his graduation and licensure, they started a family. She devoted her time to bringing up the children with the intention of finishing her education once the kids were in high school. Unfortunately, the marriage did not survive the stresses of a growing dental practice along with a growing family. The couple divorced. She received child support and additional alimony so that she could finish her education and rejoin the workforce. At 46 years old, she began her new life working for a non-profit social service agency at a very modest salary. Although she remained single, her ex-husband remarried shortly after the divorce was finalized. He continued to work in his practice even though he had also reached full retirement age (FRA).
Because of her shortened working career and modest salary, Mary’s Social Security benefit was $1,150 monthly at her FRA. Mary had decided to keep working and delay collecting benefits because she thought that this strategy would accumulate additional credits and would boost her Social Security benefit by a few hundred dollars a month.
I began to work with Mary in order to discover if delaying benefits would be beneficial.
We determined Mary’s ex-husband’s Social Security benefit at FRA was $2,950 per month.
She was surprised to learn that because they had both reached FRA, she could still claim the greater of her benefit or 50 percent of his benefit, even though they had been divorced for more than 20 years and one had a new spouse. Mary was immediately entitled to $1,475 per month.
Mary shared that she was in a committed relationship and was curious to learn whether, if she were to marry again to an individual with a modest salary history, she would lose the benefit earned from her prior marriage.
In Mary’s case, she would not, because she was over the age of 60. If one remarries before age 60, different rules apply.
Before she left, Mary asked whether her claiming the spousal benefit would reduce either her ex-husband’s benefit or that of his second spouse. The answer was no. Claiming on a former spouse’s account does not reduce their benefit, or that of their new spouse should they remarry.
There is plenty of information on the internet offering incorrect or conflicting advice about Social Security claims. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Changes to Social Security claiming strategies that go into effect this year add still new twists.
Social Security rules affecting divorced couples can be confusing. The law governing divorce finance is complicated, and often not obvious, and making the right decisions about Social Security and other aspects of property division requires the services of a professional with specific training and experience.
Gary Thomas is an attorney and is the Registered Principal of The Wealth Technology Group. He holds a master’s degree in Tax Law and is a Chartered Life Underwriter (CLU), a Chartered Financial Consultant (ChFC), a Certified Divorce Financial Analyst (CDFA), and an Accredited Investment Fiduciary (AIF).
Social Security Informational Workshop: May 7 & 9th • 6:30 pm
Wealth Technology Conference Center – 130 Southampton Rd, Westfield, MA
Gary F. Thomas
JD, LLM, CLU, ChFC, AIF, CDFA
“Because it’s not what you make … it’s what you keep!”
Gary is the President of The Wealth Technology Group, with offices in Pittsfield and Westfield. His company serves over a thousand individuals and businesses in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and across the country, helping them reduce taxes, diversify their portfolios, and keep more of what they have.
Gary is a native of Pittsfield and is a graduate of the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and Western New England University Law School. He is a member of the Massachusetts Bar and holds the prestigious Master of Laws in Taxation degree from Boston University Law School. Gary is a Chartered Life Underwriter and a Chartered Financial Consultant. He is also certified as an Accredited Investment Fiduciary, having met the ethical and education standards of a prestigious network of forward-looking investment professionals dedicated to advancing fiduciary responsibility.
Gary has conducted courses on retirement planning, financial management, and estate planning at General Dynamics Corporation, Tubed Products, the Massachusetts Nurse’s Association, Plumbers and Pipefitters Locals 4 and 104, Westfield State University, Berkshire Community College and the Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts, and has lectured financial planning and insurance professionals throughout the U.S. and internationally on best practices and customer service. He specializes in education about safe money management and the maximization of pension and Social Security benefits, so that his clients enjoy a stress-free retirement.
Gary is a member of the Massachusetts Bar Association, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors, and the International Association of Financial Planners; he sits on the Board of Directors of the MCLA Foundation. Last year, Gary was honored to be appointed a member of the Board of Trustees for Western New England University. He also underwrites programming for WHMP, Channel 57, and is a member of the Westfield Chamber of Commerce and the Better Business Bureau. He was chosen Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year for 2013 by the Western Mass Association of Fundraising Professionals.
Gary is a presence on local media and is sometimes called upon to comment on financial news. Every few weeks Gary also has some fun talking about financial topics with Bax & O’Brien on Rock102. His programs are available on the station websites, and are podcast on iTunes and at www.wealthtechnology.com. He has appeared nationally on Fox Business News, and has been quoted on the Forbes and CNN Money websites.