Can You Collect Your Ex’s Social Security When They Die?

RETIREMENT - SOCIAL SECURITY
Could your ex's Social Security be your unexpected financial lifeline?
Updated May 8, 2024
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For better or worse, the end of a marriage doesn’t always signify the end of a financial relationship. These financial entanglements can continue even after your former spouse has passed away.

Even after you’re divorced, you and your former spouse might need to negotiate spousal and child support, the equitable division of assets, and the division of retirement funds (especially if one or both of you had planned to retire early).

Depending on how long you were married, your current marital status, if you receive Social Security benefits, and whether you and your former partner had any dependents, you could be eligible for additional benefits based on your ex-partner’s Social Security history.

We answer 12 essential questions about how the Social Security Administration handles spousal benefits and benefits in the event of your ex-partner’s death.

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What are spousal Social Security benefits?

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Spousal Social Security benefits are retirement benefits paid to the family of a retired worker based on the worker’s earning record. Qualifying family members can include spouses, former spouses, and children.

How are spousal Social Security benefits calculated?

Chuck/Adobe social security

Depending on factors like your age and how close you are to retirement, your spousal benefit can be as high as 50% of your former partner’s monthly benefits check. 

While you can apply for benefits at age 62, you’ll receive a reduced benefit based on how far you are from your full retirement age.

Who qualifies for a former spouse’s Social Security benefit?

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The ex-spouse of an individual who paid Social Security taxes can qualify to receive those benefits if they were married to the beneficiary for at least 10 consecutive years. In most cases, qualifying individuals must also be at least 62 and cannot be currently wed.

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How old does your ex-spouse need to be before you can apply for benefits?

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Your former spouse must be at least 62 years old before you can apply to receive spousal benefits. 

However, if your ex-spouse has passed away, you may apply to receive benefits starting at age 60, as long as you and your prior spouse have been divorced for at least two years.

Can you apply for benefits earlier than age 62?

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If you are disabled and your former spouse earned Social Security wages, you may apply for spousal disability benefits as early as age 50.

However, you still need to meet the requirement of having been married for at least 10 consecutive years and divorced for at least two. Additionally, you cannot be currently married to apply for an ex-spouse’s benefits.

What if you’re caring for children you had with your ex-spouse?

Syda Productions/Adobe senior mother with adult son

If your ex-spouse passes away and you’re caring for your shared dependents — including children you had together and any of your spouse’s children whom you also raised — you can apply for benefits at any age instead of waiting until you turn 62.

In this case, dependents refer to children 16 years or younger. It also extends to any dependents who became disabled at age 22 or younger.

What if you were remarried to someone who has since passed away?

Tasneem H/peopleimages.com/Adobe older couple relaxing on the sofa

While you usually can’t claim your ex’s benefits if you’ve since remarried, you might be eligible for your first spouse’s benefits if the person you remarried has also passed away. In this case, you can claim your ex-partner’s benefits if you were married for at least a decade.

Alternatively, you can collect your more recent partner’s benefits if you were married for at least nine months before their death.

If you remarried someone who has since passed away, can you claim benefits based on both their work record and that of your deceased ex-spouse?

fizkes/Adobe signature on legal documents

You cannot collect benefits based on both partners’ work records. You can claim either your first ex-partner’s Social Security benefits or your more recent deceased partner’s benefits, but not both.

Will your ex’s living beneficiaries be informed if you apply for benefits?

Rido/Adobe senior woman scrolling smartphone at home

No, the Social Security Administration will not let your ex-partner (if still living) or their remaining beneficiaries know that you apply to claim benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history.

Relatedly, you don’t need their permission to apply for benefits. You can apply, and the SSA will take care of the rest while dealing solely with you, not your ex’s family.

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Can you still receive benefits if your ex-spouse’s current partner is also receiving spousal benefits?

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Yes. As long as you qualify for benefits based on the criteria above, you can receive spousal benefits, and no benefits will be taken away from your ex-spouse’s other surviving beneficiaries.

Can you collect an ex-spouse’s benefits and your own Social Security benefit at the same time?

saltdium/Adobe Woman working on a notebook computer.

Yes, you can collect both benefits simultaneously. However, if you worked outside the home and earned Social Security wages, the Social Security Administration will pay your individual benefit first.

If your spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse’s work history are higher than your individual benefits, the SSA combines your benefits amount with your spousal benefit to ensure you receive the higher payment.

Can you still work after applying for spousal benefits?

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Although collecting spousal Social Security benefits from your ex-partner can give your budget some breathing room, the amount is likely not enough to live on. 

Whether you’re still working your regular job or you’ve picked up a retirement-friendly side gig to make extra money, you can still collect spousal benefits based on your partner’s record.

However, your overall benefit amount will be reduced if you receive benefits before your full retirement age. Your full retirement age is based on the year you were born and can range from age 66 (born in or before 1954) to age 67 (born in 1960 or later).

You’ll also receive a reduced benefit if you earn more than $21,240 for the 2023 tax year. For every $2 you earn over that amount, the SSA deducts $1 from your yearly benefit.

Bottom line

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Being the former spouse of a deceased Social Security beneficiary doesn’t automatically qualify you for spousal benefits after their death. However, if you qualify, apply for them via the Social Security Administration’s online application portal.

An additional Social Security benefit can be a huge help to your retirement budget and may lower your financial stress, so make sure to follow through.

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Author Details

Michelle Smith Michelle Smith has spent a decade writing for and about small businesses. She specializes in all things finance and has written for publications like G2 and SmallBizDaily. When she's not writing for work at her desk, you can usually find her writing for pleasure near large bodies of water.

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