A lifetime of work later benefits the worker with retirement funds, and the worker's family benefits when the worker dies. Each spouse contributes to the family while married and may collect benefits even after the marriage ends. Social Security retirement and survivor benefits acknowledge contributions of the ex-spouse. You may collect Social Security retirement benefits based on the ex-spouse's work history. If the worker dies, you may receive survivor benefits as well.
As an ex-spouse, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years, or you must be caring for deceased's biological or adopted child, to receive survivor benefits. You must not remarry prior to age 60, or 50 if you are disabled. If you qualify for personal retirement benefits, your benefits must not be greater than survivor benefits.
You need the date and place of birth of your ex-spouse if you do not have the Social Security number. Social Security evaluates your application and requests documentation of marriage, children, your age and other supporting documents. You may receive survivor benefits at age 60 or at any age if you care for the deceased's biological child under the age of 16. A disabled ex-spouse may receive benefits as early as age 50.
At age 60, you receive 71.5 percent of the deceased's full retirement benefit, unless the deceased received early retirement. Early retirement by the deceased requires use of that figure as 100 percent. If you care for the deceased's child under the age of 16, you receive 75 percent of the benefit amount until the child reaches age 16. If you wait to collect survivor benefits until you reach full retirement age, you receive 100 percent of the deceased's retirement benefit.
Each work history has a maximum benefit payable. If you receive benefits as the ex-spouse without the deceased's dependent child, your benefits are not in the maximum. If you care for dependent's child, your benefits count in the maximum. The total maximum benefit is 150 to 180 percent of the deceased's full retirement benefit. If several individuals qualify for benefits on one work history, Social Security decreases each benefit by a percentage to stay within the maximum allowable.
You may collect survivor benefits and allow your personal Social Security retirement benefits to accrue. You may switch over to your own retirement benefits at 62 or older. You may also consider collecting your personal retirement benefits and allowing the survivor benefits to accrue, if that is a higher amount. Request help from the Social Security Administration to determine the best approach for you.
- Social Security Online: Widows, Widowers & Other Survivors: Qualify and Apply: Dec. 2010
- Social Security Online: Survivors Benefits: Aug. 2009
- Social Security Online: How Much Would Your Benefits Be?: Sept. 2010
- Social Security Online: When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits: July 2008
- Social Security Online: What Every Woman Should Know: July 2009
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