Can a Divorced Widow Claim Her First Husband’s Social Security Benefits?

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Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you would like a personalized report detailing your optimal Social Security claiming strategy, click here. Check it out: It could result in receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime!

Today’s question comes from Jim:

“Suppose that two people are married for over 10 years, then divorced and the wife remarries. Then, her new husband dies after several years of marriage. Is she eligible to claim against the first husband’s benefits?”

The rules surrounding survivors benefits

Jim: The quick answer to your question is that she is eligible to receive benefits, but there are many conditions associated with the eligibility of divorced spouses. As long as the original marriage lasted for 10 years and she is unmarried, she is eligible for Social Security benefits based on the record of her first partner. These include survivors benefits.

On the other hand, if the second marriage had taken place before the age of 60 and the new husband had not passed away or the second marriage had not ended in divorce or annulment, then she would be ineligible for these benefits. If the second marriage took place after age 60, then she would be eligible for benefits even if she is still married.

The general rule for a spouse is that the primary beneficiary must claim benefits before a spouse can claim spousal benefits. A primary beneficiary cannot claim benefits before age 62. If a divorced spouse is eligible for benefits under the above conditions, she or he does not have to wait for the ex to claim — spousal benefits can be claimed once the ex has reached age 62.

When a divorcee claims a spousal benefit or a survivors benefit, this has no effect on the benefits received by the present spouse. Social Security just pays both the divorced spouse and the present spouse.

Making a good choice about when to claim benefits does not depend only on eligibility to obtain spousal benefits. For example, a divorcee may be better off taking her or his own benefit rather than a spousal benefit. Like any other Social Security claiming decision, it is useful to obtain advice about your special situation. To obtain a personalized report, go here.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can submit a question for the “Social Security Q&A” series for free. Just hit “reply” to the Money Talks News newsletter and email your question. (If you don’t already receive the newsletter, you can sign up for free, too: Click here, and the sign-up box will pop up.)

You also can find all past answers from this series on the “Social Security Q&A” webpage.

About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. Presently, I am teaching at Gallaudet University.

In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

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