General, Online Services, Retirement

Planning Now Cuts Back on Future Uncertainty

May 12, 2016 • By

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Last Updated: May 12, 2016

 a couple sitting together on a sofa looking at their mySocialSecurity accountAn old saying tells us that death and taxes are the only guarantees in life. While we know it’s inevitable, death is not something we like to think about. The loss of a loved one is overwhelming. It can leave you devastated, uncertain of what steps to take.

This is especially true when you lose a spouse. The death of a spouse is devastating emotionally, physically, and financially.

Social Security survivors benefits protect your surviving spouse if you die. Your widow or widower can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60 or full benefits at full retirement age or older. If your surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50 as long as the disability started before or within seven years of your death.

As the widow of a deceased worker, your surviving spouse can get benefits at any age if she or he takes care of your child who’s receiving Social Security.

We also make a one-time payment of $255 when you die if you’ve worked long enough. We can only pay this benefit to your spouse or child, if they meet certain requirements. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death.

Survivors benefits are an earned benefit, but you may wonder how much your surviving spouse can receive. The amount of benefits your surviving spouse will get from Social Security depends on your average lifetime earnings. The more you earned, the more their benefits will be. You can learn more about this earned benefit by visiting our Survivors Planner: Survivors Benefits For Your Widow Or Widower.

You can also check your Social Security Statement to see an estimate of your retirement and disability benefits and the survivors benefits we could pay along with other important information.

Death is unavoidable, but planning ensures some protection for your surviving spouse. For more information, please read Survivors Benefits.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Communications


  1. Leslie

    I am 54 years old and on disability. I only get $600 a month from social security. I was married for 25 years and then divorced. I receive alimony and am using that to pay my mortgage and bills. My alimony stops when I turn 62 and I am very worried about my future. I would like to know if there was any way I could find out now (even a ball park figure) what my ex-husband would get if he retired when he was 62 because I will being using his social security. Also, will I be getting 35% or 50%. I have tried using the online calculaters and even called Social Security. I don’t want to have to wait till 2 or 3 months before I file at 62 to find out the amount because I want to plan for my future.

    • R.F.

      We are sorry that you are having trouble using our Benefit for Spouses calculator. Your spousal benefit can be as much as half of your ex-spouse’s “Primary Insurance Amount” or PIA, depending on when he retires. If you are eligible for a higher benefit on your ex-husband’s record at age 62, your benefit will be about 33% of his PIA. Remember, that if your benefit amount is higher that the spousal benefit, then we can only pay that amount.
      Unfortunately, Social Security records are confidential and we do not disclose information, unless we have the proper authorization or consent.

  2. Julie

    My husband and I recently retired after working over 45 years, having fica withheld from our pay and our employers matching that only to discover if something should happen to either of us, one of our benefits stops being forced to live off an income which is basically cut in half, poverty level. We take pride in the fact that we worked hard and have never received state or federal assistance not even food stamps, unemployment comp or any of the freebies available to so many, however the decision to reduce our income when we would already be devastated by the lose of life we would be forced to in order to survive. How fair is that. We both paid in so what happens to the other. I’m also understand if my husband or I had been married at least 10 years to someone else that person could draw half of the social security benefit even after death, so that person could draw half, the widow/widower would get the higher social security benefit and lose the lesser????? Why should they be penalized shouldn’t the survivor get that at least 50% of their benefit. I understand the system is in trouble, however it shouldn’t be those who paid over 45 years or more who had no choice but to pay be penalized. If you remove the FICA limit that would resolve your problem. Also please look at those young men and women on SSI who have been for years, what type of review is being done, I hope the examiners aren’t as gullible as it seems. My husband was run over by a dump truck in his teens and could barely walk due to the pain and also had a foot crushed by a piece 2 ton of steel, however he continued to work. I’m sure I’m not the only one that sees this.

    • Leslie

      You should be thankful that you were even able to work 45 years instead of criticizing and alluding that people on disability don’t qualify for benefits. I put in my time of work and not collecting welfare or food stamps. I also have an autistic son who will probably never have the opportunity of getting a halfway decent job during his lifetime.
      And I also don’t consider “examiners” to be gullible when they award disability to an individual.

    • Marc

      Why would the government be obligated to pay RETIREMENT benefits to a DEAD person??? Everybody griping about disabled people who “don’t deserve” the SSDI benefits that THEY worked all their lives for and PAID INTO, and griping about how we need “smaller government,” but then when it comes to them, they somehow feel entitled to MORE than everyone else and blame the government and SSA for being “broken.” My God people, what do you want?
      Another disgusting thing I see on the comments here every single day are the angry people criticizing the government and the SSA, posting all kinds of false claims that are so wrong and so ignorant – yet literally EVERYTHING you could ever hope to know about Social Security is right here on this very website. And stil, day after day I’ve seen literally dozens of people making these ridiculous FALSE claims – including several posters right here on this comments board – about all the terrible things the SSA does and does not do. It boggles the mind. Anyone who is too lazy to bother to click on the FACTS at the SOURCE -especially when they’re right here on this very site – doesn’t have any room to talk about “handouts” to anyone else, and quite frankly, such an individual doesn’t deserve the benefits our government provides to us. No matter how much they get it’s never enough, but let anyone else have even a pittance and it’s “waste, fraud, and abuse.” Unbelievable.

  3. Wilmoth W.

    I was married to my now deceased wife of eighteen years we were divorced in 98 I did know of her until my son who is the military serving in SK at present she has died maybe three or fours ago my deceased wife was two years younger than I am I do not know if she was on ss at the time of death she died in NJ how do I go about finding out or getting question answered to this issue I live in Brooklyn NY

    • John O.

      Go to your local office or call 1 800 7721213 and ask for pamphlets on Survivor’s Benefits.

    • R.F.

      Hi Wilmoth, please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 and ask one of our representatives to assist you. Be prepared to provide personal information to identify your deceased ex-wife. Depending on the information you provide, we may need to ask other questions. If you are eligible for survivor’s benefits you may have to provide certain documents. Our representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7.p.m. Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later in the day, or later in the week, thanks.

  4. Richard A.

    Getting nearer to retiring at 70 and applying for social security. As a disable vet, do I get more for being in the service?

    • John O.

      Military wages subject to FICA increases your payment but no more than if you’d had paid in the same thing in a civilian job.

    • R.F.

      Thanks for your question, and thanks for your service Richard. Earnings for active duty military service or active duty training have been covered under Social Security since 1957. Under certain circumstances, special extra earnings for your military service from 1957 through 2001 can be credited to your record for Social Security purposes. Please read our publication: Military Service and Social Security for more information.

  5. Katie

    What if I am the daughter and took care of.My Mother and she wasn’t married. Is there any survivor benefit or $255 burial benefit??

    • John O.


      • Angie

        Yes she can get 255 burial

    • R.F.

      Hi Katie. Unfortunately, the Lump Sum Death Payment of $255.00 is only payable to eligible family members. Generally, the widow or widower and minor children of the deceased. For more information on this, please read our publication “How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies“.

      • Angie

        Well it should go to her kids to help for burial y’all try to suck the life out of family even at the death

    • Angie

      Yes they 255 you can get you got to show prove of death certificate and you have 2 years to claim it

  6. Wanda

    Husband 84 And I 83. We both drawing s.s on our own earnings. His is considerably larger than mine. If he dies first can I draw his s.s payment or would I have to try to live on mine. Not possible.

    • Louis

      You can draw his S.S. payment.

      • Angie

        Only half of his that’s what they told me

        • Angie

          That’s why they told me to keep mine like it was cause it would be lowered . If I choose to claim on my husbands

        • Chris

          Wanda is over her full retirement age and she would be eligible for his full amount unless she is receiving a pension from work that she did not pay into Social Security on and then WEP would apply.

    • R.F.

      Thank you for your question Wanda. Based on the information you provided, you will have to apply for widow’s benefits to collect the highest benefit amount. For more information, please read our publication: “How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies“.

  7. Toeur

    My wife and I were married in Cambodia during the war and lost all legal documentation of our marriage. We’ve lived here since 1982 and have worked since then, raised our four children and are looking to retire soon. We want to make sure my wife and I receive our social security benefits in the case of one of us passing. Could you please tell me if there’s anything I need to do, to make sure there isn’t any issues in the future??

    • Manuel S.


    • R.F.

      Hi Toeur. We must always verify the eligibility of individuals applying for Social Security benefits. We may need to see certain supporting documents in order to pay benefits and help us decide how much your benefits and your wife’s benefits would be. The supporting documents you’ll need will depend on the circumstances of your claim. If you do not have proof of marriage or cannot obtain one from Cambodia, we suggest you contact your local Social Security office as soon as possible, to find out what –if any- other evidence may be acceptable. Thanks.

  8. marilu

    they forgot to tell that you will receive, only if you make $15,700 a year if you make more forget about it!
    Who lives in California with $15,700 a year? that is ridiculous!

    • Joseph A.

      You are confusing the rules for those who are not full retirement age and are receiving benefits. You can earn as much as you want at FRA.

      Inform yourself and read the earnings test rules at SSA.GOV.

    • Mary D.

      I also am a surviving spouse and when she foolhardy me i can only make $15,700 a year i told her that’s below poverty level that comes to $1310/mo. My house payment is more than that. I don’t understand, if it’s my husbands social sec. That he paid into for 45 yrs, what does that have to do with how much i make. The system is all screwed up. There’s too many people collecting off of other people’s money and people are living longer. …so now the system needs to be changed!

      • Jackie

        That is so true, ppl collecting it if they have asthma, or something stupid which is hurting other ppl that really needs it. Everyone I talk to wants to collect social security so they don’t want to work. Omg idk how u are doing it . Idk if u work and collect but SS don’t give u much, my husband worked for 54 yrs paid into it all those yrs and I only get 1322 a month but I am only 55 but disabled and can’t make it. I really think I’m getting screwed.

      • Blanche

        I agree

  9. Ken

    Only gets $255? Is this a mistake?

    • Yvonne

      That is true. I have ‘been there, done that’ process.?

      • Chuck

        This is only paid so that they are officially informed of the persons death, otherwise if unreported, checks may continue to be collected for many years. Is that a benefit, yes if you are dumb & dishonest.

    • k

      Nope; a JOKE … not a “mistake.” The SAME amount that it has been for years/decades! We ARE talking about ‘the government,’ right???

      • Tom

        The government is not a single entity. The Congress the public elects determines what the law provides for. You cannot blame the agency for the laws of your elected representatives anymore than you can blame a traffic cop for your speeding ticket after the city representatives set the speed limit. Government works better when you know what it does, how and why. Otherwise your complaints don’t change a thing. This is a democracy and you can exercise your rights.

    • Jackie

      No it’s the truth, my husband passed in 2010. And that’s all I received, you do receive it within 10 days

  10. Collyn

    Only works if you are married long enough. Living together doesn’t count. More’s the pity.

    • Joseph A.

      9 months for currently married couples. You are confusing the divorced spouse rules thar require a 10 year marriage.

      • Jackie

        If you are divorced from your ex, but was married 9 1/2 yrs, can I claim on his social security? I get s.s. Survivors benefits now from my 2nd. Husband and since my ex he’s on s s also can I collect off of his S S ?

        • John O.


        • R.F.

          Hello Jackie, according to our rules, an individual may be eligible for Divorced Spouse Benefits if he or she is unmarried at the time of application, and was legally married to the ex-spouse for at least 10 years before the date the divorce became final. We hope this information helps.

    • Jackie G.

      Yes.. I didn’t qualify as well, as his child, DISABLED, &I took care of him for 3+ years prior to his passing. Then SS took every dime out of his checking account, so, I COULDN’T BURY HIM AT ALL!

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