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  • Writer's pictureChris Stein, CFP®

Switching Survivor Benefits

We had the following question on Social Security survivor benefits come in this past week from a blog reader…

“My mother is 69 years old and was married to my dad for 27 years before they got divorced.  My mother subsequently married another man, who died a couple years ago.  She is receiving widow’s benefits on his record.  A couple months ago my dad passed away.  He made much more money than my mom’s second husband.  Is there any way my mom can switch to his larger benefit, or did her re-marriage remove that option?”

Switching Benefits

Your mom is entitled to switch to her first husband’s survivor benefit.  Normally when a person re-marries they “hitch their wagon to a new horse” so when she was married to her second husband she no longer could claim a spousal benefit from her first marriage.  However, when she was widowed she became eligible to claim Social Security on any record where she was eligible.  The fact that she was married at least 10 years to your father means that she is eligible for a divorced widow’s benefit on his record.  Even though she is also eligible for a widow’s benefit from her second husband she will not receive both benefits.  She is only entitled to the higher of the two.

Historical Perspective

On a side note, that 10 year requirement used to be 20 years, but was lowered to 10 years about 4 decades ago.  Your mother would have qualified either way, but I wanted to add some historical perspective to that rule.  Also, even if your dad had a second marriage that created another widow on his account, both widows are entitled to receive full widow’s benefits independent of the other.  They do not split the benefit.

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