Death and divorce put an end to many things, but Social Security benefits are often an exception. If you divorce, you can still claim Social Security benefits after your ex-spouse's death, based on her earning record. It's not a slam-dunk, however: the Social Security Administration has rules with regard to who can qualify.
You can qualify for Social Security survivor benefits if you and your ex were married at least 10 years and you're unmarried when you apply for benefits. If both those conditions are true, you can receive benefits based on your ex-spouse's earning record once you turn 60. If you're disabled, the starting age is 50. If you don't remarry before you turn 60 -- or 50, if you're disabled -- you can claim ex-spousal benefits even if you're married when he dies.
Who Has More
Another consideration in collecting benefits is how much you can claim based on your own income. When your earnings record entitles you to a bigger benefit check than you can claim via survivor benefits, you don't get to double dip: The Social Security Administration bases your benefits on your earnings alone. If you remarry after 60 and you can claim a bigger benefit based on your new spouse's earnings than your ex's, you likewise don't get both.
If your ex-spouse remarries, that doesn't affect your right to the survivor benefits. You filing a claim also doesn't take away any benefits from other survivors, such as his widow, or another qualifying ex-wife, or any of his children by other spouses. Everyone who has a legitimate claim will get the benefits they're due, regardless of how many people that is. As with other rules applying to ex-spouses and survivors, this is true regardless of whether the ex is a wife or a husband.
Not Dead Yet
While your ex-spouse is still alive, you can qualify for retirement benefits based on her earnings. As with survivor benefits, you must have been married to your ex for 10 years or more, currently unmarried and your ex's benefits must be larger than yours. You must be at least 62 to apply, and your ex-spouse must be entitled to some level of Social Security benefits. As with your own Social Security benefits, you get a larger monthly payment if you wait until retirement age to apply.
A graduate of Oberlin College, Fraser Sherman began writing in 1981. Since then he's researched and written newspaper and magazine stories on city government, court cases, business, real estate and finance, the uses of new technologies and film history. Sherman has worked for more than a decade as a newspaper reporter, and his magazine articles have been published in "Newsweek," "Air & Space," "Backpacker" and "Boys' Life." Sherman is also the author of three film reference books, with a fourth currently under way.