General Questions, Guest Bloggers, Survivors, Uncategorized

Survivor Benefits: Four Tips Widows Need to Know

May 27, 2022 • By

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Last Updated: May 27, 2022

Photo of Cindy HounsellMonths before the first Social Security check was issued in 1940, lawmakers made changes to the planned benefits. Instead of the retired worker’s benefit ending when he died, his widow could collect a survivor benefit for her lifetime. Since then, the eligibility rules for survivors have improved. The age requirements are lower, surviving ex-spouses are eligible, including surviving spouses and partners of same-sex relationships.

One thing that hasn’t changed is that the surviving spouse is often unsure how to start claiming their survivor’s benefits. We have some information to assist you in applying for benefits as a surviving spouse.

If you are a widow (or your ex-spouse died), you may be eligible to receive benefits on your late spouse’s, or ex-spouse’s, Social Security record. How much you receive will depend on your age, the amount of benefits you may receive on your own record, and whether you have dependent children.

You may be entitled to receive a survivor’s benefit under the following circumstances:

  • At age 50 if you have a disability.
  • At age 60 (the benefit amount will be reduced).
  • At any age if you have a child under your care who is under age 16 or who became disabled before age 22.
  • If you were widowed and remarried after age 60.

If you’re entitled to retirement benefits – but haven’t applied yet – you have an option. You can decide to apply for either the retirement or survivors benefits first. You can switch to the other (higher) benefit later.

To help make this decision, it’s important to know your Full Retirement Age (FRA). Your FRA is when you can start receiving your full retirement benefit amount. For instance, if you were born between January 2, 1943 through January 1, 1955, your FRA is 66. If you start receiving benefits before your FRA, your benefits will be reduced, generally for as long as you continue to receive benefits.

There are many variables involved. Contact Social Security to discuss which benefit to take first – before applying for either benefit. You want to be sure you’re choosing the option that best fits your financial circumstances.

All the information you need is on the Social Security website. You must apply for survivors benefits over the phone or make an appointment to apply in person. You will also need to provide certain original documents.

Local Social Security offices are helping people in person with or without an appointment. This means staff will take applications in person and they will be available to help and answer any question you may have. I encourage you to call and schedule an appointment in advance to save time and so you have all the documents we need to help you in one visit. Please share this information with your friends and family – and post it on social media.

Our posting of this blog does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation of any non-Social Security organization, author, or webpages.

 


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  1. Linda M.

    My husband passed away in November of this year. I have recently found out that his ex wife is eligible for 90% of his benefits. Can you help me understand how that works. She has no children under 18. Thanks for your time

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Linda. We are sorry to hear about your loss. As a surviving divorced spouse, she could get benefits just the same as a widow. For more information, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. We hope this helps. 

      Reply
  2. Nancy M.

    I am 59 and have Breast Cancer however I still work when I can. my husband passed away in July of 2010 can I draw from his Social Security.

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Nancy. We are sorry to hear about your loss and your condition. You are eligible to apply for survivor benefits when you reach age 60 (age 50 or over if disabled). However, there are other factors that may affect your entitlement to these benefits. For more infomation about survivors benefits, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. As far as disability, . Disability Benefits are paid to people who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more or to end in death. We pay disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a needs-based disability program that pays benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. The SSDI program provides benefits to insured disabled or blind adults covered by workers’ contributions to the Social Security trust funds. If you feel that you meet our definition of disability, you can apply online. We hope this information helps. 

      Reply
  3. Joyce H.

    I am 52 years old an my sweet husband passed away on.
    April
    16, 2016. At that time I was 46 years old when he died he was on SS disability we was married On
    April 13,1996! He worked as long as he could an I stayed at home he was everything to me,The Love of my Life My safety my security an financial an in a matter of seconds it was all gone!! He was gone. Can I draw off of his SSD or survivors benefit I am not really in to good of health

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Joyce. We are sorry to hear about your loss and your condition. You are eligible to apply for survivor benefits when you reach age 60 (age 50 or over if disabled). However, there are other factors that may affect your entitlement to these benefits. For more infomation about survivors benefits, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. As far as disability, disability benefits are paid to people who are unable to work because of a medical condition that is expected to last one year or more or to end in death. We pay disability benefits through two programs: the Social Security Disability Insurance program (SSDI), and the Supplemental Security Income (SSI). SSI is a needs-based disability program that pays benefits to people with limited income and resources who are disabled, blind, or age 65 or older. The SSDI program provides benefits to insured disabled or blind adults covered by workers’ contributions to the Social Security trust funds. If you feel that you meet our definition of disability, you can apply online. We hope this information helps. 

      Reply
  4. Dawn N.

    I am57 years old-my husband passed May 12,2019-however we have not lived in the same house or divorced-curious as to if I am entitled to any of his SS???

    PLEASE N THANK U

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Dawn. We are sorry to hear about your loss. You are eligible to apply for survivor benefits when you reach age 60 (age 50 or over if disabled). However, there are other factors that may affect your entitlement to these benefits. For more information on survivors benefits, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. We hope this helps. 

      Reply
  5. Claudia K.

    My spouse passed 9 years agon this August. He made way more money than me. I’m still employed however would like to retire soon. I’m 64 years old. Would I have to wait until full retirement age to collect social security, if applied under spousal. How much difference would it be?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Claudia. We are sorry to hear about your loss. The amount of your widow’s benefit is based on several factors, including: the earnings of your husband, when he started receiving his benefits, your age, and the amount of your own retirement benefit. We compare your own benefit with your potential survivor benefit. If your survivor benefit would be higher than your own current retirement benefit, you would be eligible for survivor benefits. For more information, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. To learn how much you could be eligible for, please call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). At this time, we do not offer an online application for survivors benefits. We hope this helps.

      Reply
  6. Jane B.

    With the struggle some have with living on SS requirements, I see several things that do not make sense. I do not see why you limit earnings if someone draws SS. By working they are putting $$ back in the system. Legal individuals paying taxes back into the system. Taxing someone .50 on the dollar of additional income , is just plain theft. How can you tax a tax? what kind of a rate is that ? The banks aren’t even charging that much yet.
    If someone dies why are 2 spouses being paid? It should only go to the current spouse (and a larger payment that they can live on). If the ex spouse initiated the divorce why would they share anything now with the deceased? And if EVERYONE had an ex spouse to pay , where would all that $$ come from? Many of us paying into this system started paying in when retirement age was way younger. It just keeps being pushed farther up in hopes we will die before we draw our SS. It is pitiful that this whole system is not being reformed and most in political positions are too afraid or too rich themselves, to resolve it.

    Reply
  7. Tim H.

    I am 60 years old and have been taking survivor benefits for 6 months, because I left work. I now find that prefer to go back to work. Will my survivor benefit be reduced by my earnings above a certain limit (e.g. $52,380)?

    My deceased spouse’s earnings record was higher than mine. I am curious. Can I switch from survivor benefit and claim my spousal benefit after age 62? What if my earnings record improves with my new job? Can I claim my own benefit after age 62?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Tim. Thanks for visiting our blog. If you are younger than full retirement age and earn more than the yearly earnings limit, we may reduce your benefit amount. If you are under full retirement age for the entire year, we deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. For 2022, that limit is $19,560.  You can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes that you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow. In many cases, you could begin receiving your survivor benefit at a reduced rate and then, at your full retirement age, switch to your own retirement benefit at an unreduced rate. For more about how this works, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. We hope this helps.  

      Reply
  8. Yvette R.

    I am my 45 year old son’s SSI payee. His father recently passes if COVID. Is he eligible for survivors benefits?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Yvette. We are sorry to hear about your loss. For your son’s security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community work with our offices with specific questions. You can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

      Reply
  9. Ronald C.

    I was found disabled when I was 53, my wife had worked earlier in life but never made a lot of money, because I’m on SSDI after 50 am I entitled to any of my soon to be ex wives SS?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Ronald. Thanks for your question. To be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, you had to be married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, be and you cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. For more information on how to qualify for divorced spouse benefits, visit our efit. Visit our Benefits Planner for more information. We hope this helps.

      Reply
  10. David F.

    My wife passed away a couple of years back, Her Social Security payment is larger than mine. I am a retired federal worker who had my Social Security lowered becouse of that. Can I apply for my wife’s benifit’s ?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, David. We are sorry to hear about your loss. A pension based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, Federal civil service and some State or local government agencies, such as police officers and some teachers) may cause the amount of your Social Security benefit to be reduced. Your benefit can be reduced based on one of two provisions: The Government Pension Offset and the Windfall Elimination Provision. If you have any additional specific questions, please call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

      Reply

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