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Benefits Based on the Earnings Records of Your Current or Deceased Spouse

Posted on:3/30/2013
Under both employer-provided pensions and Social Security, individuals who have never worked cannot receive a benefit in their own right.

But individuals may be eligible for a benefit based on the earnings records of current or deceased spouses. Speak to an experienced Social Security attorney to know if you are eligible for a benefit based on the earnings records of your current or deceased spouse.


Many private plans in the past made no provision for surviving spouses. The Employee Retirement Income Security Act of 1974 and the 1984 Retirement Equity Act require that private pension annuities be paid out in a form that assures to a surviving spouse a benefit equal to at least 50 percent of the retiree's benefit. A retiree's spouse must agree in a notarized statement to the election of a single-life benefit--that is, one paid out only during the lifetime of the retiree. Social Security pays a benefit to wives and husbands equal to 50 percent of the primary beneficiary's, and a benefit to surviving spouses that is equal to 100 percent of the primary beneficiary's.


A working woman is entitled to either the pension based on her husband's earning record, generally 50 percent of the husband's benefit, or that based on her own—not to any combination of both. If, as is typical, she earned less than he did, she usually finds her work has netted her little or nothing. A working couple will receive significantly less in total benefits than a couple with the same pre-retirement income, all received by the husband. The widow of the two- income marriage may well receive as little as half the benefit of the widow of the equivalent one-income marriage.

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