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Collecting Social Security survivor benefits after divorce

In a previous post we discussed the right of a divorced ex-spouse to collect Social Security retirement benefits based on the other ex-spouse's record. But, what if a person's ex-spouse is deceased? Can an ex-spouse collect Social Security survivor benefits? The answer is yes, as long as certain requirements are met.

There are three basic requirements that must be satisfied for a person to collect survivor benefits after the death of an ex-spouse. First, the person seeking the benefits must be at least 60 years old, or 50 if they are disabled. There is no age requirement if the person seeking benefits is caring for an ex-spouse's child who is under 16 years old.

The second requirement is that the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. Third, the person seeking benefits must not have re-married before the age of 60, although a person who did remarry before 60 will still qualify if they are no longer married. If a person meets all three requirements, they are entitled to the full survivor benefit they would have received if they were still married to the ex-spouse. The survivor benefit can be up to the full amount of the monthly Social Security check of the deceased ex-spouse.

It is important to note that a person cannot collect their own Social Security benefits as well as survivor benefits. If a person is already collecting Social Security, they should determine whether their own benefits or the survivor benefits are greater, and elect the higher benefit. It's also important to keep in mind that survivor benefits, like regular Social Security retirement benefits, will be reduced if a person begins collecting them before reaching full retirement age.

Social Security survivor benefits can make a big difference for an older person who has been through a divorce. When an ex-spouse passes away, it is important to understand the legal rights in this area.

Source: Huffington Post, "Does an Ex-Spouse Qualify for Survivor Benefits?," Carrie Schwab-Pomerantz, Nov. 9, 2015

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