Am I Entitled to My Ex-spouse’s Social Security Benefits after They Die?

I have been asked this question many times over the years.  The answer is – it depends.

According to the Social Security Administration, if you are divorced, but your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you can receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record (even if they have remarried) if:

  • You are unmarried;
  • You are age 62 or older;
  • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits; and
  • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.

Your benefit as a divorced spouse is equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age.  The benefits do not include any delayed retirement credits your ex-spouse may receive.

If you do remarry, you generally cannot collect benefits on your former spouse’s record unless your later marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment.

If your ex-spouse has not applied for retirement benefits but can qualify for them, you can receive benefits on their record if you have been divorced for at least two years.

Finally, if you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record as well as your divorced spouse’s benefits, Social Security will pay the retirement benefit first. If the benefit on your ex-spouse’s record is higher, you will get an additional amount on your ex-spouse’s record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount.

Social Security eligibility after divorce can get complicated, with many specific requirements and variables to consider. Consult a qualified Family Law attorney or a financial planner who specializes in divorce for advice on your situation.