Social Security Q&A: Can I Find out What My Estranged Ex-Spouse Is Doing with His Social Security?Commentary by Laurence Kotlikoff
August 30, 2014
Social Security may be your largest or one of your largest assets. How you manage it, by deciding which benefits to collect and when, can make an absolutely huge difference to your lifetime benefits. And those with the highest past covered earnings have the most to gain from maximizing their Social Security.
I’ve been answering questions and writing columns about Social Security each week for the past two years on PBS NEWSHOUR’s website. The editors at Forbes asked me to post a Q&A each day from those columns. To see all my columns, please go to my software company’s site, www.maximizemysocialsecurity.com, and click More Press below the WSJ quote.
Today’s question asks if divorced people can know what actions their estranged ex-spouse might take affecting both their benefits. The answer illustrates how the estimate provided by Social Security can be used to infer useful information.
Question: How can I find out when my ex-husband, to whom I was married for 17 years but with whom I’m no longer in contact, does anything regarding his Social Security benefits?
Answer: Unfortunately, Social Security’s privacy provisions are in conflict with the reasonable rights and needs of divorcees to have access to their ex’s past covered earnings records. When you near age 62, the Social Security Administration will give you an estimate of your spousal benefit starting at age 62 based on your ex’s earnings record. They should also tell you the full spousal benefit you’ll receive from your ex if you wait until full retirement age and then apply just for a spousal benefit.
From this information, you can infer your ex’s PIA (Primary Insurance Amount), which will provide you most of what you need to sort out your best Social Security strategy. I say “most” because if your ex is still working, he may raise his PIA, providing you with higher spousal and survivor benefits. This could affect your best strategy for taking your own retirement benefit.