Dear Dr. Don,
My ex-husband died many years ago. Can I collect on his Social Security when I turn 62? And since my daughter was 17 when he died — and I didn’t know I could collect on his Social Security for a minor child back then — can the money be collected retroactively for the year she was a minor?
— Ex’s Retirement
Ex-spouses can, in certain circumstances, qualify to receive Social Security benefits based on their former spouse’s work history. The Social Security Administration explains who qualifies in greater detail in its electronic booklet “Survivors Benefits“:
Benefits for surviving divorced spouses
If you have been divorced, your former wife or husband who is age 60 or older (50-59 if disabled) can get benefits if your marriage lasted at least 10 years. Your former spouse, however, does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for his/her child who is under age 16 or who is disabled and also entitled based on your work. The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.
Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse who meets the age or disability requirement as a widow or widower won’t affect the benefit rates for other survivors getting benefits on the worker’s record. However, if you are the surviving divorced mother or father who has the worker’s child under age 16 or disabled in your care, your benefit will affect the amount of the benefits of others on the worker’s record.
The rules change if you remarried and that marriage remains in effect. The Social Security Administration has additional information on that as well in its Survivors Planner:
If You Remarry
If you remarry before you reach age 60, you cannot receive deceased spouse’s benefits as long as that marriage remains in effect.
If you remarry after you reach age 60, you will continue to qualify for benefits on your deceased spouse’s Social Security record.
However, if your current spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, you may want to apply for a wife’s or husband’s benefit on his or her record if it would be larger than your widow’s or widower’s benefit. You cannot get both.
In general, survivor’s benefits are only retroactive for six months. If your ex-husband died many years ago, your daughter won’t be able to get those retroactive benefits.