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Can I collect Social Security survivor benefits when my ex-spouse dies?

You qualify for survivor benefits on the work record of a late ex-husband or ex-wife if:

  • The marriage lasted at least 10 years.
  • You are at least 60 years old (at least 50 if you are disabled), or you are caring for a child from the previous marriage who is either under 16 or became disabled before turning 22 (in which case there is no age or length-of-marriage minimum).
  • You are single or, if you have remarried, you did not do so until after you turned 60 (50 if disabled).

As with widows and widowers, waiting until you reach the full retirement age (FRA) for survivors — 66 and 2 months for people born in 1957 and gradually rising to 67 for someone born in 1962 or later — entitles you to receive 100 percent of the amount your late ex was getting from Social Security when he or she died. (If the deceased never claimed benefits, you will get what he or she was eligible to receive.) In most cases, claiming survivor benefits before you reach FRA reduces the amount of your benefit.

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If you are caring for a child from the marriage who is under the age of 16 or is disabled, you can receive 75 percent of the deceased ex-spouse’s benefit.

If you have already claimed Social Security on your own, you can still apply for survivor benefits, but you will not receive both benefits combined. When someone qualifies for two benefits, Social Security pays the higher amount.

Keep in mind

  • If your late ex-spouse took reduced benefits by filing for Social Security early, you may qualify for the highest possible share of those benefits — that is, the highest possible survivor benefit — before your own FRA. If this is your situation, call the Social Security administration at 800-772-1213 to see how it will affect your survivor benefit.
  • Survivor benefits paid to you as a divorced spouse do not affect payments to the late beneficiary’s widow or widower or to other former spouses. 

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