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I was widowed from my first spouse and divorced from my second. Can I claim benefits on either one's record?

Yes, you can. Notify the Social Security Administration that you were married more than once and may qualify for benefits on more than one spouse's earnings record. They will be able to tell you which record provides the higher payment and set your benefit accordingly.

Which one that is will depend on several factors, including each spouse's earnings history and the age at which you claim a survivor benefit or divorced-spouse benefits.

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As a widow or widower, you can collect survivor benefits from age 60 (50 if you are disabled), provided the marriage lasted at least nine months. In most cases the amount is based on what the deceased was getting from Social Security at the time of death (or, if they had not yet filed for benefits, what they would have been entitled to get). You can collect between 71.5 percent to 100 percent of the late spouse's payment, depending on your age when you claim survivor benefits. 

The minimum age of eligibility to collect benefits on the record of a living former spouse is 62. Ex-spouse benefits are based on your former mate's primary insurance amount — the monthly benefit he or she is entitled to at full retirement age. You must have been married for at least 10 years. Divorced-spouse benefits range from 32.5 percent to 50 percent of your ex's benefit, depending on your age when you file.

Keep in mind

  • If you marry a third time, you might not qualify for either type of benefit. You cannot collect divorced-spouse benefits if your ex is still alive and you remarry, except under very limited circumstances. For survivor benefits, you lose eligibility if you remarry before age 60 — 50 if you are disabled — but the government has no problem if you get hitched past that age.
  • If your own retirement benefit is bigger than what you'd get on any former spouse's record, that's what you'll get. Social Security does not add multiple benefits together — it will only pay you the highest one each month.

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