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Q&A: Can a spouse claim benefits if their spouse committed suicide?

Celia Brugge
by Celia Brugge, The Garrett Network

It depends. Two of the most common benefits that a surviving spouse might be eligible for are Social Security survivor benefits and life insurance. For Social Security survivors’ benefits, the main consideration is how long the couple was married, not the cause of death.

To receive any applicable Social Security survivors’ benefits, you must have been married to the deceased person for at least nine months unless certain exceptions apply.

READ: What you need to know about death and taxes

In addition, the surviving spouse must be at least 60 years old, at least 50 and disabled, or any age and caring for a child under age 16. Divorced spouses can collect survivors’ benefits based on the work record of the deceased former spouse if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years.

For life insurance benefits, the answer depends on the terms of the life insurance policy. Most policies have a “suicide clause” stating that benefits will not be paid if the insured takes his or her own life within a certain time period after the policy is issued, usually two years. The burden of proving that a death was suicide in this case is upon the insurance company.


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Celia Brugge is principal of Dogwood Financial Planning, a fee-only financial planning firm in Memphis, TN.  She serves on the board of the Financial Planning Association of Greater Memphis and is a member of the Garrett Planning Network and the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors (NAPFA).