General Questions, Guest Bloggers, Survivors, Uncategorized

Survivor Benefits: Four Tips Widows Need to Know

May 27, 2022 • By

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

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. April T.

    Why do the survivors benefits end when our daughter turns 16? She will still be in high school for 2 1/2 more years. How am I expected to go back to a career at an age nearing 60 while I have been off work taking care of her in the grief od losing her dad and then the pandemic. Are there exceptions to the rule or will we possibly see a change in the near future regarding this issue?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, April. Thanks for visiting our blog. We are sorry to hear about your loss. Spousal benefits are paid to a widow under age 62 only if he or she is taking care of the worker’s entitled child who is under age 16 or disabled. These benefits end when the child becomes age 16, unless the child is disabled, because the extent of parental care required for a child over age 16 does not prevent the spouse from working and being self-supporting. This was a decision made by Congress in 1981. Your child will continue to receive benefits until age 18 unless they are disabled or a full-time student. We hope this information is helpful.

      Reply
  2. Lester J.

    My wife is not eligible to draw my SS because we both are CRS retirees (she was not covered under SS). Should I die would she be eligible to draw a stipend based upon my SS earnings?

    Reply
    • Heather S.

      Hi Lester, When you pass, any affect of the Windfall Elimination Provision that reduces your Social Security earnings that YOU earned goes away. However, because she is also a CSRS employee, she will likely not be able to collect any of your Social Security widow’s benefits because of the Government Pension Offset which will reduce your Social Security survivor benefit by 2/3 of per monthly pension benefit.

      Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Lester. It sounds like your wife may be subject to the Government Pension Offset. 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 affect the amount of their Social Security benefit. Your benefits can be reduced based on one of two provisions: The Windfall Elimination Provision and The Government Pension Offset (WEP/GPO). The (WEP/GPO) offset will apply starting with the date the pension and SSA benefit becomes concurrent. For additional specific questions, please contact us 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
  3. Alberta

    I work for Federal Government (CSRS). I am a widow and drawing SSN as a widow. I am told that once I retire I can no longer draw the SSN as a widow Is this correct.

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Alberta. Thanks for visiting our blog. It sounds like you may be subject to the Government Pension Offset. 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 affect the amount of your Social Security benefit. Your benefits can be reduced based on one of two provisions: The Windfall Elimination Provision and The Government Pension Offset (WEP/GPO). The (WEP/GPO) offset will apply starting with the date the pension and SSA benefit becomes concurrent. For additional specific questions, please contact us 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
  4. RDF

    My husband died at age 61 after working and paying taxes for 40+ years. At that time I was 55 and my retirement income cut in half by his death. I had to wait until I was 60 in in 2018 to receive his SS. I was told then that the longer I waited to take the SS benefits I earned the higher that amount would be. I made more than my husband. Now I am almost 65 I am reviewing my options am I see I no longer qualify for my own benefits that worked for 40 years for because it was DEEMED when I took my surviving spouse benefit I was forfeiting my right to my own SS benefits. WTF. Is this true? How do we change this? Also we need to freeze property tax for widow widowers. My property tax has gone up 300% and my combined income reduce by 50% with the death of my husband and I am still not 65.

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, RDF. Thanks for visiting our blog. Unfortunately, your question is a bit more complex than we can answer in this forum.For your 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
  5. Edmond

    I approved disability after 3 and half years by judge at age of 48 and now I am 52 years old. Right after my approval I applied to receive my husband’s higher benefit than mine a couple of weeks prior to approval by judge but the social security opened up a new cases for me and sent me for medical exam. We had a same sex marriage. Why should I go thru everything again like a brand new case for requesting my husband’s benefit?. Is that because I a man and married to man?.

    Reply
  6. Nancy S.

    I personally think it is ridiculous that if you are a widow who remarries prior to the age 60 you lose your late spouse’s survivor benefits. I supported my late husband for 25 years. And because I chose to remarry at age 53 I cannot claim his benefits at all. The rules do not make any sense. Once a widow always a widow.

    Reply
  7. Robin S.

    Are these benefits taxable at federal and/or state?

    Reply
    • fffred

      (1) Many states don’t tax Social Security benefits (seems to be 37 states currently). For example, see https://www.marketwatch.com/story/37-states-dont-tax-your-social-security-benefits-make-that-38-in-2022-11612453620

      (2) Social Security benefits are taxable by the Federal government but only up to 85% of said benefit (meaning that only 85% of the benefit could be subject to income tax). But this income is taxed only if you have other income that drives your total income above a “ceiling”; in that case an increasing percentage of the Social Security benefit will be subject to Federal income tax. See https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/taxes.html

      Good luck!

      Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Robin. Thanks for your question. You must pay federal taxes on your benefits if you file a federal tax return as an “individual” and your “combined income” exceeds $25,000. If you file a joint return, you must pay taxes if you and your spouse have “combined income” of more than $32,000. If you are married and file a separate return, you probably will have to pay taxes on your benefits. For more information, visit our Benefits Planner.  For tax questions, you will need to contact the IRS. Their toll-free number is 1-800-829-1040 or you can visit their website. As far as state taxes, you will need to contact your local State Tax Commission or Tax Revenue office. We hope this information is helpful.

      Reply
  8. Gabriel G.

    My wife is not an USA citizen and we live abroad with our 7 years old USA citizen child. Is my wife entitled for survival benefits if a die?

    Reply
    • PETE B.

      Hi, Pete B., and I have a similar situation. My wife is not an USA citizen and we live abroad. Is my wife entitled for survival benefits when I die? What are the steps to have her enrolled in the Survivor Benefit Program? From where I am residing, the Dominican Republic, I can not contact the agency online nor by phone. Please, tell me what to do.

      Reply
      • Ann C.

        Hi, Pete. Thanks for visiting our blog. For more information about noncitizens outside of the United States, please visit our Frequently Asked QuestionsSince you are living outside of the U.S., please contact your local  Federal Benefits Unit for any assistance related to Social Security benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad. We hope this helps.

        Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Gabriel. Thanks for visiting our blog. For more information about noncitizens outside of the United States, please visit our Frequently Asked QuestionsSince you are living outside of the U.S., please contact your local  Federal Benefits Unit for any assistance related to Social Security benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad. We hope this helps.

      Reply
  9. Vera T.

    I’m 72 yrs old widow. my husband died around 10 yrs ago. I was told I could draw on mine or his when I retired 2-3 yrs ago. Since I worked longer & made more than him I chose mine. . I was told I COULD NOT draw on both is this true? The $1100 he was getting would really help a 72 yr old widow. (I’m getting $1800 on mine)

    Reply
    • Pamela S.

      Should have taken his first and switched to yours, the higher benefit at your FRA.

      Reply
    • Angela G.

      You cannot draw two benefit checks.

      Reply
      • Nancy H.

        I am receiving survival benefits now. I will be 70 in July will I then have to use my benefits when I turn 70

        Reply
        • Ann C.

          Hi, Nancy. Thanks for your question. We are sorry to hear of your loss. 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. You can read more about how this works on our page,  If You Are The Survivor.  For addtional 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
    • T G.

      Unfortunately, you are only able to request the highest amount. However, you could have received your spouse’s income or a portion of it, before your retirement. Then once you retired his would cease and yours would have started if your amount was/is higher.

      T Genus

      Reply
    • Angela R.

      Unfortunately I completely understand. My husband was disabled since he was in his 40s. Died at 53. I get nada. I’m under 50. Soc Security doesn’t let anyone double dip. They think people have life Ins to sustain them until they die.

      Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Vera. Thanks for visiting our blog. We’re sorry to hear about your loss. The amount of your potential 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. You would get an additional amount from your spouse’s record so that the combination of benefits equals that higher amount. For more information, please visit If You Are The Survivor page. We hope this helps. 

      Reply
  10. John F.

    Marriages tend to consist of a couple.
    Hence, if one partner dies does the remaining partner continue receive benefits.

    Reply
    • Karen B.

      Yes, the surviving partner can receive widows benefits. There are some variables so check to see which way benefits you the most.

      Reply
      • Vera T.

        Where do I find this at. He passed 10 yrs ago I have been making it on my own since then. I retired 2 -3 yrs ago from my insurance job after 50 yrs and the additional cash would be very helpful because I’m not making 1/2 of what I was when working.

        Reply
    • Angela R.

      Depends on age. If under 60 you can’t get nothing unless deemed disabled through Soc Security. Unless you have kids under 16 or above 18 & deemed disabled & you make less than $19,000

      Reply

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