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Qualifying for Social Security on a Deceased Ex-Spouse’s Work Record

Just a quick reminder: the 50%-off sale for the 2016 edition of Can I Retire? ends tomorrow. If you’re interested in a copy, you might as well grab one today.

A reader writes in, asking:

“I was married to my first husband for 26 years, then we divorced when I was 51 years old. A few years later, I remarried. Earlier this year, my husband passed away. I am 63 now and I know that I can get survivor benefits based on my deceased husband’s benefit. What I don’t know is whether is it possible to also get a survivor benefit based on the benefit of my first husband, who is also now deceased?”

In short, the requirements to be able to claim survivor benefits on a deceased ex-spouse’s record are identical to the requirements for claiming survivor benefits on a deceased spouse’s record, but with the additional requirement that you must have been married for at least 10 years prior to the divorce.

So, the full requirements are as follows:

  • You were married to the now-deceased ex-spouse for at least 10 years before you got divorced,
  • You are at least 60 years old (exception: in some cases if you are disabled, you can begin survivor benefits as early as age 50), and
  • You are not married, unless you remarried after age 60 (or after age 50, in some disability-related cases).

As with regular survivor benefits, if you are also receiving a retirement benefit, your benefit as a divorced widow(er) will be reduced (but not below zero) by the amount of your retirement benefit.

In a case (such as the one from the reader above) in which you are eligible for survivor benefits on two deceased spouses’ (or ex-spouses’) work records, you simply get the larger of the two survivor benefits if you file for either of them. (You cannot, for instance, file an application for just one of the survivor benefits at age 60 while allowing the other survivor benefit to continue growing until full retirement age.)

You can, however, use either of the following strategies:

  • File a restricted application as early as 60 for widow(er) benefits — or divorced widow(er) benefits — while allowing your retirement benefit to continue growing until age 70, or
  • File a restricted application as early as 62 for retirement benefits, while allowing your widow(er) or divorced widow(er) benefits to continue growing until full retirement age.

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