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Social Security for the Divorced and Widowed

You'll have to meet certain requirements and answer several questions before you can claim a former spouse's benefits.

My mom is about to turn 65 and would like to retire and start collectingSocial Security benefits. For most of her 26 years of marriage to myfather, she did not work. They divorced, and my father passed away seven years ago. How much can she receive in benefits, and what sort of documentation does she need to show to the Social Security Administration to claim a portion of my dad's benefits?

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Unmarried divorced spouses can receive the same benefits as a widow or widower, as long as the marriage lasted for ten years or more. A widow can get 100% of the worker's full benefits if she applies at her full retirement age, or she can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60. See the chart at the Social Security Web site for more information about how receiving benefits early can affect the benefit amount.

If your mom applies for benefits at her full retirement age, she can qualify for 100% of your dad's full benefit amount. She will, however, need to wait a few months beyond age 65: If your mom was born in 1942, then her full retirement age is 65 and six months. See the table for details.

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The full age for survivor's benefits is actually a few months earlier than the full age for retirement benefits. See the Social Security Web site for more information on How Much Your Survivor's Benefits Would Be. The benefits calculators at Socialsecurity.gov don't show widow's benefits; for specifics, call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.

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If a divorced spouse remarries before age 60, then he or she can't receive a deceased spouse's benefits as long as that second marriage remains in effect. If a divorced spouse remarries after age 60, however, then he or she will continue to qualify for benefits based on the deceased spouse's record -- but can switch to receive benefits from the new spouse, instead, if they're larger (but can't receive both types of benefits at the same time).

When she applies for widow's benefits, your mom will need to answer a lot of questions, including what her former spouse's Social Security number was and his date of death. SocialSecurity.gov has a full list of what to expect and the paperwork she'd need to provide. See Information You'll Need When You Apply for Widow's, Widower's or Surviving Divorced Spouse's Benefits.

For more information about widow and widower's benefits, see the Survivor's Benefits Booklet. You'll also find a lot of information about how Social Security works by reading A Rundown of Social Security Benefits.

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