When working out a divorce or legal separation settlement, on your own or with a divorce mediator, it’s wise to look more than a little ways down the road at your financial future.  Depending on your age, Social Security may become a significant source of income.  You may be entitled to receive Social Security benefits in three different ways:  a) based on your own work record; b) based on your spouse’s work record; or c) survivor benefits if your spouse dies.  You receive the highest of the three; you can’t combine them.

survivor benefitsSurvivor Benefits

You may be eligible to receive monthly survivor benefits if the death leaves you as:

  • a widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled) or
  • a surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances (explained below).

There are also special provisions for receiving survivor benefits if you take care of a child of the deceased who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits based on the deceased’s work record.

If you are a divorced spouse of the deceased, you could get the same benefits as a widow or widower, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more.  If you marriage lasted less than 10 years, you are not eligible for survivor benefits.

If you are divorced from the deceased and you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), your remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivor benefits.  If you remarry before you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), you are not eligible for survivor benefits while you are married.

If you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security to be entitled to benefits, you can:

  • receive full survivor benefits at your full retirement age (probably 67) or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
  • begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled and the disability started before or within seven years of your spouse’s death.

Your survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more they paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits would be.  The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, the survivors benefit is based on that amount.

Any benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse won’t affect the benefit amount received by other survivors.

Here are examples of the benefits that survivors may receive:

  • Widow or widower, full retirement age (67) or older: 100% of the deceased’s benefit amount;
  • Widow or widower, age 60 to 67: 71½ to 99% of the deceased’s basic amount;
  • Disabled widow or widower aged 50 to 59: 71½% of the deceased’s basic amount..

Other Things To Know

There are limits on how much survivors may earn while they receive benefits.

Your maximum social security benefit entitlement is basically the highest of what you are entitled to:

  • based on your own work record; or
  • based on the work record of your current spouse; or
  • as a widow or widower; or
  • as a surviving divorced spouse.

If you will receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government or foreign work, your Social Security benefits as a survivor may be affected.