When Can a Wife Draw From Her Husband's Pension?

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Pensions differ from retirement investments and can offer spouses extra benefits
Pensions differ from retirement investments and can offer spouses extra benefits (Image: Photodisc/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Although pensions are disappearing, a few private and public institutions still offer this generous benefit to workers. One of the benefits of some pensions is the ability for spouses to collect on the pension of their husband or wife, even after the death of the pension recipient. However, the process of claiming a pension can be taxing and confusing without clear guidance.

The Difference Between a Pension and a Retirement Investment

Most workers now put money in some form of retirement investment, like an individual retirement account (IRA) or a 401k fund. These are private tax-deferred or tax-free retirement investments that investors can use to plan and prepare for retirement. Because they are private investments, they are not guaranteed and can be risky.

Pensions are quite different. A pension is an extra bonus offered by employers in which a set amount is offered as a pension income after retirement. This amount varies from pension to pension but is usually a percentage of the worker's salary while she was still employed. Pensions are coveted because they provide a set and guaranteed income, whereas IRA and 401k investments only produce as much income as the investor can get after many years of investing.

Drawing a Pension

Upon retirement, a retiree will begin drawing on his pension, which simply refers to the process of being paid a retirement salary instead of the wages earned while working. The pensioner will be guaranteed this salary until death, usually with occasional increases to match the cost of living.

Claiming Rights to a Spouse's Pension

In the case of a family pension, a spouse will make a claim on the retiree's pension after the retiree has deceased. This is usually done by filing a copy of the death certificate with the pension fund and, sometimes, a marriage certificate or proof of union. This is in contrast to individual pensions, whose benefits cease at the end of the beneficiary's life.

Exceptions and Regulations regarding Divorce, Separation, and Remarriage

In cases of divorce, legal separation or remarriage before the retiree's death, spouses and former spouses usually will not be allowed to draw on their spouse's pension. If the pensioner has identified another beneficiary for the pension, spouses will also not be allowed to draw on the retiree's pension. In most other cases (repatriation, receiving pensions from separate sources, remarriage after death), spouses will still be eligible for their late spouse's pension.

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References

  • "Fundamentals of Private Pensions"; Dan McGill et al.; 2010.
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