Getting Spousal Social Security Benefits if Your Last Names Do Not Match

Aging reality hits you when you reach your “FRA,” or Full Retirement Age as defined by the Social Security Administration. Although the FRA was 65 for the longest time, it is now creeping up based on your year of birth. Currently, FRA is 66 for folks born in 1943-1954 and it will rise gradually to 67 for folks born in 1960 and later.

So, three months before my 66th birthday, I tried to sign up for spousal benefits – deciding  to delay my benefits until age 70, which is still a grandfathered provision for us 1951ers. As good as the website is, it does not allow one to sign up for spousal benefits online when you and your spouse have different last names (or at least I could not get it done).

You get the pleasure of having to make an in-person visit – which turned out to be not so bad, and in fact entertaining – a good sketch/storyline for SNL (Saturday Night Live).

You have to call the Social Security Administration and make an appointment, as the wait-in-line approach (at least in Manhattan) can be long. So take the earliest appointment, in my case the 9 am slot. On a Wednesday in February, by 8:30AM I was looking for SSA offices at 237 West 48th Street.  The entrance turns out to be before 235 West 48th, so it is a little confusing.

You are met by the elevator guard, who has missed his calling at SNL.  He is full of jokes, jabber and jingles – very entertaining while you and many others stand in the hall in two lines destined for the fourth and fifth floors. I was applying for benefits and had an appointment; therefore I was in the 5th floor line. The 4th floor seemed to be for disputes, payment issues, etc. You see all walks of life and realize what an enormous population the SSA has to serve.

We are shuttled into the elevator, about ten at a time, and deposited to the 5th floor.

The first thing you see is an arrow pointing to the waiting room and a sign saying “All liquid beverages must be consumed in the hall,” not the waiting room – so drink your morning Joe before you come.

They were very efficient checking IDs and giving me an appointment number. Bring reading materials as there are wait times. By 9:15AM, I was called and ushered into a room with SSA counselors – very  pleasant and professional, but beware: ensure you have the right documentation or it is a wasted visit. In my case, I needed:

  1. A photo ID – passport is best
  2. A certified copy of your marriage license (meaning it has the raised seal).
  3. Your checking account bank’s name, its routing number, and the account number where you want the payment deposited (a blank check will do).
  4. I brought my SS card just for safety.

The SSA representative filled my application online, copied all my documents, and asked several questions.

I told her I had a Health Savings Account through my employer’s health plan, which did not allow me to sign up for any part of Medicare including Part A. Little did I know the future complications of this – but  that is for a subsequent blog post.

She took my work phone number in case of any issues, which was smart as there inevitably would be. We shook hands, I thanked her, and off I went.  Overall a very satisfactory experience!



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Martha Staniford

About Martha Staniford

Martha is a managing director in our New York office.

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