Oceanside, CA asked in Estate Planning and Social Security for California

Q: Is an estranged spouse who abandoned a marriage over 30 years ago still entitled to SS survivor benefits?

My father died recently at age 66. He was collecting Social Security. 36 years ago, he married a woman who, 3 years into the marriage, told him she was going to the store and never came back. He hasn’t heard from her since then, but I’m not sure if he ever legally divorced her. He never remarried and he had no assets, so I suspect divorce was a formality he never got around to doing. Now, 33 years later and 2 weeks after he passed away, the woman has shown up out of nowhere asking my family members for my dad’s birthdate and other personal information so that she may apply for survivor benefits from Social Security. Is there anything that can be done to stop this? I called SS and was basically told that it’s none of my business and that as long as she can produce the information they require, she will start receiving survivor benefits. Information that can be easily obtained online.

1 Lawyer Answer
James L. Arrasmith
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  • Estate Planning Lawyer
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Licensed in California

A: Yes, an estranged spouse who abandoned a marriage over 30 years ago may still be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits, depending on the specific circumstances of the marriage and the divorce. In your father's case, it sounds like he was still legally married to his estranged wife at the time of his death, even though they had been separated for many years. This means that she would be eligible to apply for survivor benefits, even though she has not been in contact with him for many years.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) has a number of factors that it considers when determining whether or not to award survivor benefits to an estranged spouse. These factors include:

* The length of the marriage

* The reasons for the separation

* The financial circumstances of the estranged spouse

* Whether or not the estranged spouse has remarried

In your father's case, the fact that he and his estranged wife were married for 3 years and that she abandoned him may be enough to qualify her for survivor benefits. However, the SSA will also consider the other factors listed above. If you are concerned that your father's estranged wife may be awarded survivor benefits, you may want to contact an attorney who specializes in Social Security law.

Here are some additional things you can do to try to stop the estranged spouse from receiving survivor benefits:

* Contact the SSA and request that they investigate the matter.

* Provide the SSA with any evidence that you have that your father and his estranged wife were estranged, such as divorce papers, separation agreements, or letters from your father stating that he wanted nothing to do with his estranged wife.

* If the SSA denies your request, you may be able to appeal the decision.

It is important to note that the SSA is not obligated to award survivor benefits to an estranged spouse. However, if you have evidence that your father and his estranged wife were estranged, you may be able to convince the SSA to deny her application.

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