How to Draw Social Security of a Deceased Ex-Spouse

You may need to wait in line for Social Security benefits.
You may need to wait in line for Social Security benefits. (Image: Ryan McVay/Photodisc/Getty Images)

Social Security provides retirement benefits, but also provides disability and survivor benefits for individuals who qualify. A married individual may collect benefits based on the spouse’s work history; so may a divorced individual if the marriage lasted 10 years and the surviving spouse remains single. If your deceased ex-spouse has sufficient work history and you meet qualifications, you may be able to collect Social Security survivor benefits.

Things You'll Need

  • Social Security number
  • Birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Worker’s death certificate
  • Worker's Social Security number
  • Bank routing number and bank account number

Check to see if the deceased worker qualifies for benefits. A deceased worker must have sufficient work history during his lifetime. Work history for young workers may be as few as 1 1/2 years or six credits in the 3 years prior to death. The maximum needed for survivor benefits is 10 years or 40 credits of work history, which is the minimum for retirement benefits.

Compare your status with the rules to see if you qualify for survivor benefits. A spouse must be age 60, or 50 if disabled, to collect survivor benefits from a spouse unless caring for the deceased worker’s child. In that event, the spouse can be any age if the child is under the age of 16. A spouse caring for deceased’s child does not need to have been married to the deceased for 10 years to qualify for survivor benefits.

Apply with the Social Security Administration for benefits. (See References.) You will need your Social Security number, your birth certificate, your marriage certificate, the worker’s death certificate and full name and place of birth if you do not have the Social Security number. You may need birth certificates for any children and your divorce decree. If you have married subsequent to marriage to the deceased, you will need evidence of dissolution of that marriage unless you were over age 60 when married.

Tips & Warnings

  • A spouse at age 60, or 50 if disabled, can collect 71.5 percent of a deceased spouse's benefit or 100 percent at full retirement age. If you were born before 1960, your full retirement age is age 66. If you were born after 1960, your full retirement age is 67. If you have a work history, you can collect survivor benefits from your deceased ex-spouse and allow your benefits to accrue until you reach retirement age. If your benefits are more than the deceased spouse, you may have to take your benefit at retirement age.
  • You can apply for survivor benefits online, but you will probably need to visit your local Social Security office to deliver original documents.
  • Early retirement benefits for the deceased worker reduce the benefits for all survivors to a percentage of the early retirement, not full retirement benefits.

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