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Divorcee may be entitled to Social Security survivor benefit

Divorcees must meet multiple requirements to collect Social

Divorcees must meet multiple requirements to collect Social Security based on a former spouse's record. Credit: iStock

I was married for 11 years, from 1970 to 1981, to a woman who unfortunately died in 1990. Am I entitled to any benefit that I can then give to her grandchildren?


Your marriage must have lasted at least 10 years for you to claim a benefit based on a former spouse's Social Security record. But that isn't the only requirement, regardless of how you would use the proceeds.

Did your deceased ex-wife work and pay Social Security taxes on her earnings for at least 10 years? If the answer is no, she didn't pay into the system long enough to qualify for a Social Security benefit herself. In that case, nobody can claim anything based on her record.

You were divorced when she died 24 years ago. Did you remarry before you turned 60? If the answer is yes, you're ineligible for a benefit based on your ex-spouse's record unless you're currently unmarried.

How old are you? Even if you meet all the other requirements, you must be at least 60 years old to claim a widow or widower's benefit.

Do you currently work -- and if so, how much do you earn? If you collect a benefit while working, you forfeit $1 of benefit for each $2 you earn above $15,480 until the year you reach your full retirement age, whether that benefit is based on your own record or someone else's.

Are you already collecting Social Security based on your own work record? If so, is that benefit bigger or smaller than your potential survivor benefit? You can't collect them simultaneously. The most you can receive is an amount equal to the larger of the two.

THE BOTTOM LINE You must meet multiple requirements to collect Social Security based on a former spouse's record.


TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to Ask the Expert/Act 2, Newsday Newsroom, 235 Pinelawn Rd., Melville, NY 11747-4226, or email Include your name, address and phone number. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own advisers for your specific needs.

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