Can an Ex-wife Receive Social Security Benefits From a Dead Husband?

by Wilhelm Schnotz

    Although many modern marriages end in divorce, the relationship with a former spouse can live on in the eyes of the Social Security Administration. Although qualifying for the retirement benefits of a deceased ex-husband isn’t guaranteed, many women are entitled to benefits based on their former husband’s work record, even if he died before he began receiving his retirement benefit.

    You may qualify to receive a survivors benefit based on your ex-husband’s retirement benefit even if you divorced before he qualified to receive it. You must have been married for at least 10 years to qualify for survivors benefits. If you qualify, you can’t begin drawing benefits until you’re at least 60 years old -- or 50 years old if you're disabled. Because you may only draw one pension from Social Security, if your own benefit is higher than your former spouse’s, you can’t draw his benefits, and you’ll stop receiving your benefit if your husband’s survivors benefit is larger than yours. You must be unmarried to qualify, or you must not have remarried before you reached age 60.

    If you’re caring for the deceased’s child, you may also qualify to receive temporary survivors benefits regardless of your age. The child must be your child through birth or adoption, and she must be dependent upon you. In this case, you’ll receive your ex-husband’s survivors benefit until his youngest child turns 16, at which time it’s suspended. If you then meet the qualifications for an ex-spouse when you turn 60, the Social Security Administration will resume paying the benefit.

    If you qualify for a survivors benefit, the Social Security Administration bases the amount on your ex-husband’s full retirement benefit. The portion of that benefit you receive is based upon the age at which you begin drawing benefits. If you wait until full retirement age -- which varies from 66 to 67, depending upon your year of birth -- you receive his full benefit. You can begin drawing the benefit when you’re 60, although you’ll receive a lesser amount. Beneficiaries who draw a pension at age 60 receive 70.5 percent of the full benefit amount. That portion increases the closer to retirement age you are when you choose to draw benefits.

    If you qualify to receive a survivors benefit based on your ex-husband’s work and your time together, you must contact the Social Security Administration to begin receiving benefits. Before you apply, you must have your ex-husband’s Social Security number handy. If you don’t have that, you need to provide his place and date of birth as well as his parents’ names. You may apply by calling the Social Security Administration at (800) 772-1213, appearing in person at your local Social Security Office or using the administration’s online application system.

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    About the Author

    Wilhelm Schnotz has worked as a freelance writer since 1998, covering arts and entertainment, culture and financial stories for a variety of consumer publications. His work has appeared in dozens of print titles, including "TV Guide" and "The Dallas Observer." Schnotz holds a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Colorado State University.

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