Can An Ex-Spouse Decline Social Security Benefits?

Feb 13 2020 - 11:15am

Can an ex-spouse Social Security benefits be declined or waived? My father passed away last year and this resulted in an increase to my mother’s monthly Social Security benefits. Most would view this as a good thing however my mother lives on a limited income and qualified for Medicaid coverage. The increase was enough to bump her from qualifying for continued Medicaid benefits And her spending habits do not allow for a month to month spend down.. My question simply is can the social Security benefit amount my mother receives from her ex-husband (my Father) be declined because it compromises her benefits?


I'm sorry for your loss.

Yes, people aren't required to apply for Social Security benefits, and they can't be paid benefits without an application. However, if someone has already applied for and is drawing spousal or divorced benefits and the worker dies, the spousal/divorced spousal benefits are automatically converted to survivor benefits. No application is required for that conversion, and it can't be declined. In theory at least, the survivor could opt out of receiving benefits, but in order to do so they would have to withdraw the spousal application that they filed and repay all of the benefits they were subsequently paid.

Furthermore, if a person is receiving a needs based benefit such as Medicaid, those programs generally require as a condition of eligibility that the person apply for any Social Security benefits for which they qualify.

Best, Jerry