Social Security: 5 Things To Know About Collecting as a Divorced Survivor

Lake Elsinore, CA, USA - January 30, 2022: Fake Social security card on prop US currency - Concept of Social Security Benefits.
Richard Stephen / Getty Images/iStockphoto

Most retirees understand that the surviving spouses of deceased Social Security recipients may be entitled to their own survivor benefits. But many do not know that even divorced spouses of Social Security beneficiaries may still qualify for survivor benefits.

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This is not true of all divorcees, however. So, what are the specifics of how you can qualify for collecting Social Security benefits as a divorced survivor? Read on to find out.

What Are Survivor Benefits Anyway?

As the name suggests, survivor benefits are paid to qualifying, related beneficiaries of deceased Social Security recipients. This includes widows/widowers, certain dependents and parents of the deceased. The amount of the payout depends upon the classification of the survivor, as follows:

  • Widow/widower who is at least full retirement age (67 for those born in 1960 or later): 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount
  • Widow/widower, age 60 to full retirement age: 71.5% to 99% of the deceased worker’s basic amount
  • Widow/widower age 50 through 59 with a disability: 71.5%
  • Widow/widower of any age caring for a child under age 16: 75%
  • Child under 18 (age 19 if still in elementary or secondary school) with a disability: 75%
  • Dependent parent(s) age 62 or older receive 82.5% if there is one surviving parent, or 75% each if there are two surviving parents
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Percentages for qualifying divorced spouses are the same as listed above.

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How Can a Divorced Spouse Qualify To Collect Survivor Benefits?

Generally, as long as you were married for at least 10 years, you’re eligible to claim survivor benefits as a divorced spouse. However, you do not need to meet this 10-year requirement if you are caring for the child or your former spouse if they are disabled or under the age of 16. Also, if you remarry after age 60 — or age 50 if you have a disability — you’re still eligible for survivor benefits from the record of your former spouse.

What Are the Steps to File a Claim?

The Social Security Administration doesn’t offer the option of filing for survivors benefits online. Widows, widowers and surviving divorced spouses should contact the SSA at 800-772-1213 to make an appointment. Survivors who are deaf or hard of hearing can call the SSA’s TTY number at 800-325-0778.

What Is the Maximum Amount You Can Get as a Survivor?

The maximum amount you can earn as a survivor is 100% of the original beneficiary’s full retirement payout. Even if the original recipient waited to claim benefits until age 70 — in which case the decedent’s benefits would exceed the full retirement age benefit — as a survivor, you’re entitled only to a maximum of the decedent’s benefit at full retirement age, unless the decedent filed early and was receiving a reduced benefit.

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For 2022, the maximum Social Security benefit at age 70 was $4,194; at full retirement age, that amount was $3,345. At age 62, the maximum benefit was just $2,364. 

What this means for survivors is that even if the decedent was earning the maximum $4,194 as a qualifying survivor, you would be entitled only to a maximum of $3,345 — or possibly as little as $2,364, if the decedent filed for benefits at age 62 and was earning the maximum benefit.

It’s important to note, however, that few Social Security recipients earn the maximum benefit. Although these are the maximum allowable benefits, in most cases, recipients — and survivors — will receive less than these amounts.

Are Any Other Benefits Payable to Survivors?

The Social Security Administration always will pay the highest benefits to which you are entitled. This means that if you’re already receiving benefits based on your own work record, they may not change. If you’re already earning a higher payout than you would receive based on the decedent’s work record, for example, the SSA will pay you your own benefit rather than a survivor benefit. 

If a surviving spouse is still living in the same household as the decedent, the spouse may be entitled to a one-time lump sum benefit of $255. However, this doesn’t generally apply to divorced survivors.

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About the Author

After earning a B.A. in English with a Specialization in Business from UCLA, John Csiszar worked in the financial services industry as a registered representative for 18 years. Along the way, Csiszar earned both Certified Financial Planner and Registered Investment Adviser designations, in addition to being licensed as a life agent, while working for both a major Wall Street wirehouse and for his own investment advisory firm. During his time as an advisor, Csiszar managed over $100 million in client assets while providing individualized investment plans for hundreds of clients.
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