HELP LINE: Divorced? You could be eligible for ex-spouse benefits

I’VE JUST DISCOVERED that I completely missed a national designation a few months back.

Of course, a reasonable case could be made to the point that I miss a lot of things, but …

Did you know that in April we observed Ex-Spouse Day?

… Oh … well, I didn’t.

In fact, I didn’t even know that there was an Ex-Spouse Day.

But, hey. Good. Why not?

Which might or might not have anything to do with the fact that I’ve received a number of inquiries regarding what the heck the deal is with filing for Social Security benefits on an ex-spouse’s Social Security earnings record.

Here’s the deal:

If you are at least 62, unmarried and divorced from someone entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits, you might well be eligible to receive benefits on his or her record. (Please note that this is all gender neutral).

You have to have been married to the ex-spouse for at least 10 years or more.

If you’ve since remarried, you can’t collect benefits on this former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ended by annulment, divorce or death.

You also want to remember that if you’re entitled to Social Security benefits on your own record (“work history”), that amount would have to be less than what you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s record.

In other words they’ll pay you the higher of the two benefits for which you’re eligible, but not both. (Nice try, though).

You are potentially eligible for up to 50 percent of what your ex could receive at their full retirement age and, by the way, he or she doesn’t have to be retired for you do this.

As long as you’ve been divorced for at least two years before applying and your ex has to be at least 62.

Finally, the amount of benefits you might get has no effect on the benefits of your ex-spouse.

I know: I’d recommend you re-read that three or four times. I always do.

You can get the full low-down by going to and look for “Retirement Planner: If You Are Divorced.”

By the way, if your ex died after the divorce, you could still qualify for widow’s or widower’s benefits.

Personal note: Don’t make this about who did or didn’t do what to whom. It’s a simple matter of whether you need (and qualify for) the money, in order to conduct your life.

Good luck.

Scared of Alzheimer’s

This something completely different, but I hear it a lot, so I’m going to address it.

I’m well aware that most of us are scared to death of Alzheimer’s — and for good reason.

Add to that the fact that every time we turn around we’re reading another report or piece of research on the percentage of us who will be afflicted with the same, and they inevitably point out that the percentage increases as we get older.

And it’s all true; however let me point out something else:

Most of us will not get Alzheimer’s.

It’s true. The odds are in our favor.

Let me also point out that with each additional year that we manage to survive, the odds of anything happening to us increase.

It’s just how the math works.

Struck by lightning? Blind-sided in a meteor shower? Whacked by a tractor in midtown Manhattan? Died of boredom in a doctor’s waiting room?

OK, those might be unlikely (except for the last one), but the statistical truth is that the odds do increase as we get older.

Which does not make it inevitable.

Every time anyone past puberty forgets something, it is not indicative of Alzheimer’s or any other form of dementia.

We all forget stuff. And sometimes we get confused. Who doesn’t?

When I hear concerns like this, I immediately start asking about changes in medical conditions/diagnoses, changes in medications, mental health history, etc., because there are any number of things that can cause any number of things.

But most of the time they are not the beginning of the end.

Now: If you honestly believe that someone you care about might be experiencing symptoms of early (or advanced) dementia, or any of the other things I just rattled off, for Heaven’s sake, get to the doctor.

Doctors can help. Don’t mess around or stall. Just do it.

For peace-of-mind, if nothing else.

I just want us all to relax a little bit, cut ourselves some slack, enjoy life and stay the heck out of midtown Manhattan!


Mark Harvey is director of Clallam/Jefferson Senior Information & Assistance, which operates through the Olympic Area Agency on Aging. He is also a member of the Community Advocates for Rural Elders partnership. He can be reached at 360-452-3221 (Port Angeles-Sequim), 360-385-2552 (Jefferson County) or 360-374-9496 (West End), or by emailing

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