General Questions, Guest Bloggers, Survivors

Survivor Benefits: Four Tips Widows Need to Know

May 27, 2022 • By

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Last Updated: November 1, 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. James

    I am collecting survivors benefits and will be 70 in a couple months. Does SS automatically change to my benefits or do I need to make an appointment?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, James. Thanks for visiting our blog. It sounds like you are currently receving survivors benefits and want to switch to your own retirement benefits at age 70. If so, please contact your local Social Security office for assistance. We hope this helps. 

  2. Joanne G.

    My husband was a US citizen – I am Australian aged 66. Currently I am working full time but hoping to retire by age 70. Previously while out of work after he died, I received part of his pension. It has been over two years since I started work and stopped the pension. Today I had a letter saying my benefits cannot continue because I am not lawfully present in the US. Before I was told I could reinstate the pension on retirement and get the full benefit. Have things changed. The letter took 3 weeks to arrive and in past experience it has taken up to six months to get forms completed and submitted online, by phone and via mail.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Joanne. Thanks for visiting our blog. In most cases, we stop payments to noncitizens after they are outside the United States for six calendar months in a row. For more information, please visit our Frequently Asked Questions. For specific questions, 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.

  3. Lynn P.

    You should really rethink your writing style to be more gender inclusive, i.e. surviving widow or widower, or simply say surviving spouse. for example, the article states “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.”

    • Mark

      🙄
      Just take it as a generic term, it means the same thing

  4. Judit B.

    I’m over 66 years old, early retired, my husband died in May/2022 he was retired too. We was living in Hungary temporarily. I provided a Death certification to the US Embassy. Now is July and I just got my own Social Security Benefit. When can I get my husband higher Soc. Sec. benefit, or what I have to do?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Judit. We are sorry to hear about your loss. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. Since 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.

  5. Joann S.

    I’m a widow and will be 66 in Sept. The past year I’ve been collecting under my SS benefits. At what age can I switch to collect under my deceased’s husbands full benefit?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Joann. Thanks for your question. 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 about survivors benefits, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page.  For speciic questions about your potential survivor benefit, 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.

  6. Jennifer D.

    My husband received disability payments monthly. I also receive monthly payments for my 3 children. He died last week. What changes to the income that we were making will happen? He was only 45 and children are 16,13,and 8.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Jennifer. We are sorry to hear about your loss. 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.

    • Jennifer D.

      Will the amount be the same, less, or more?

  7. Julia

    I’m inquiring about the eligibility age in regards to widows and disability. My ex has not passed, but ill, I am disabled have been during marriage. I’m 65, didn’t want to file until he passed or possibly 6/2023- after age 66. Why is eligibility age between 50-60 yrs?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Julia. Thanks for visiting our blog. You are eligible to apply for surviving divorced widow’s benefits when you reach age 60 (age 50 or over if disabled). For more information about these benefits and how to qualify, check out our Survivors Planner. We hope this helps. 

  8. Michelle

    I understand that I am able to collect my ex-husband’s SSI when I retire if I am unmarried. Am I able to collect if I remarried before collecting and divorced before I retire or does the act of remarrying forfeit that benefit?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Michelle. Thanks for visiting our blog. Generally, to be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, you had to be married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, currently unmarried, and you cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. To find more information on divorced spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner. If you have additional specific questions about potential benefits, 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.

       

       

       

  9. Kathy J.

    Prior to my husband’s passing, I was receiving about $1600 per month and he was receiving about 1900 per month. I applied for widows benefits and expected mine to be switched to his. I got a letter from SS saying I would be receiving a monthly benefit of about 300. This adds up to about $1900. But is that the way it is calculated? I would rather the $300 be added to my husbands 1900. Was SS wrong?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Kathy. 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 additional information, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. For specific questions about your benefit, please contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps. 

  10. MargieAnn

    My cousin became a widow at 22 yrs old and received survivor’s benefits until she got remarried 11 years later. The marriage only lasted around 3 years, and my friend has been on disability for maybe ten years now. Someone told her that since she is divorced, on disability, and 54, that she should apply to start receiving survivor’s benefits from her first and deceased spouse. Is it true that she could re-apply for survivors benefit since her second marriage ended in divorce just after three years?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, MargieAnn. Thanks for visiting our blog. A disabled widow may be eligible for benefits if the person is between ages 50 and 60, the person meets the definition of disability for adults, and the disability started before the worker’s death or within seven years after the worker’s death. For more information about widow’s benefits, check out our survivors planner. We hope this helps.

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