Am I eligible for Social Security benefits from my ex who died?


Q. I was married for 25 years, then we divorced. He didn’t pay any support to me or for our children, who are now adults. My ex-husband died in 2015. My friend said if you were born before 1954, you can still get Social Security from a deceased spouse. Can you?
— Hopeful

A. There’s often a lot of confusion about Social Security.

You should definitely contact Social Security so it can advise based on your specific records, but here’s how it works.

Divorced spouses are eligible to file for Social Security benefits on their ex-spouses records if a number of criteria are met, said Claudia Mott, a certified financial planner with Epona Financial Solutions in Basking Ridge.

The marriage had to have lasted for 10 years or longer, both you and your ex-spouse must be at least age 62 before you claim a benefit and you must not be remarried, she said.

Also, if your ex-spouse is not claiming a benefit, you must be divorced for two years or more to be eligible, she said.

“Fulfilling these criteria will entitle a divorced spouse to one-half of their ex-spouse’s full benefit amount, assuming the individual waits until full retirement age to file a claim,” Mott said. “However, the value of the 50% benefit must exceed any amount the divorced spouse would be entitled to receive on their own work record.”

She offered this example: Let’s say half the ex-spouse’s full benefit is $1,000 and the divorced spouse’s full retirement benefit is $800. An additional $200 would be paid to bring the total to $1,000. Additionally, Mott said, the divorced individual does not have to wait for the ex-spouse to claim to start their application.

In the event the divorced spouse was born prior to Jan. 1, 1954, there’s another option.

The option to file for an ex-spouse benefit and delay your own benefit, allowing your own benefit to grow, still exists for those born before 1954. Social Security benefits grow 8% per year between full retirement age and 70, the latest age that one must file, Mott said. For some, allowing the benefit to grow will create a larger monthly payment when they change over to their own Social Security benefit record. The 2015 budget act ended this strategy for those born after Jan. 1, 1954.

As a divorced spouse, you are also eligible to receive a survivor benefit that is similar to those of a widow or widower as long as your marriage lasted 10 years or more, Mott said.

“Unlike regular divorced spouse benefits, remarriage does not affect eligibility for survivor benefits if you remarry after age 60 — or age 50 if disabled,” she said. “As a surviving spouse the benefit you receive will be that same as that of the deceased worker.”

In the event the individual files for benefits prior to full retirement age, the surviving spouse benefit will also reflect reduction in payment amount which resulted from filing early, Mott said.

As is the case with most benefits, the amount of benefit received would need to exceed the amount the divorce spouse would be entitled to on their own record, she said.

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This story was originally published on Aug. 2, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.