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Can I collect Social Security survivor benefits as a divorced spouse and wait to claim my own retirement benefit?

Yes, if:

  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You are at least 60 years old (50 if you are disabled) or caring for a child from the marriage who is under 16 or disabled. (In the latter circumstance there is no minimum age for you to claim survivor benefits.)
  • You are single or, if you have remarried, you did so after turning 60 (50 if disabled). If you remarried before that age and are still with that spouse, you cannot claim survivor benefits on the record of your late former spouse.

In general, when you are eligible for both retirement and survivor benefits, you have the option of collecting one benefit first and switching to the other when you are older and the monthly payment will be larger.

For example, you can claim your own retirement benefit as early as age 62 and switch to the survivor benefit when you reach full retirement age (66 and gradually rising to 67 over the next several years). At that point, you are eligible to collect 100 percent of your late ex-spouse’s Social Security payment.

Or you can file for survivor benefits on a late ex-spouse’s record as early as age 60 and wait until as late as 70 to switch to your own record, accruing delayed retirement credits that increase your eventual retirement benefit. Just remember, once you have claimed both benefits, you get whichever is bigger, not their sum total.

Keep in mind

  • Benefits you collect on a deceased former spouse’s earnings record don’t affect the size of payments to his or her other survivors, such as widows, widowers or children. 

Published October 10, 2018

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