Too many widows are unaware that they qualify to draw Social Security survivor benefits off of their deceased ex spouse.

It’s commonly thought that if the ex spouse remarried, only that new spouse could qualify for benefits. In reality, if you were married 10 years and later divorced, you qualify to receive 100% of your ex’s Social Security amount. However, this is only if you are currently single. I said currently—which means that even if you had remarried and divorced again, you can still qualify on your prior spouse.

Drawing Social Security off your ex will not in any way diminish what your ex’s widow can draw off of him.

Let’s look at a rather common situation: Ed was married to two women and each marriage lasted 10 years. Ed was single when he passed, but had been living with a partner for 15 years. Since they weren’t married, the last partner is out of luck. She can’t get any benefits. The first and second ex spouses can get the same amount.

There is one exception to this rule. The last partner in this situation could only get benefits if they resided in one of the few states that still recognize common law marriage.
Social Security survivor benefits are the same for women and men, widows and widowers. Many men assume they can’t claim on their ex spouse.

How much a widow or widower will get is more than people assume. Spousal benefits are 50% of the amount the spouse or ex spouse was eligible to draw at his or her full retirement age (FRA). Survivor benefits are much more. The surviving spouse can get 100% of what her deceased spouse (or ex spouse) was receiving from Social Security. This takes into account a reduction in benefits if the deceased drew before his FRA. If Ed, above, took Social Security at his earliest available age, 62, he would get about 30% less than in he waited to draw at his FRA of 66 – 67. Anyone claiming survivor benefits off of Ed, would only be able to draw what he was drawing. (Spousal benefits, on the other hand, don’t pass along a reduction to the spouse).

Survivor benefits don’t vary based on the amount of time you’ve been divorced

I’ve heard from a lot of ex spouses that assume they can’t draw survivor benefits since they have been divorced 20 years or more and their ex had a long-term spouse at his death. While the Social Security Administration attempts to notify those who may qualify for survivor benefits, many people are suspicious of unsolicited mail and ignore this letter.

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Sylvia Gordon and her sister, Rebecca, run Gordon Marketing, one of the nation’s largest Medicare FMO/NMA offices. They have a team of over 100 that train and support independent insurance agents in all 50 states. You can find Sylvia’s weekly posts on LinkedIn and the sisters' Youtube channel posts 2 training videos each week. Contact Sylvia at or 800-388-8342.


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