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. Sandra. P.

    I receive survivor benefits for ex husbands and I’m disabled. Why will my benefits decrease @ age 60.
    Also my daughter passed away a few years ago can I claim her benefits ? Thank you

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Sandra. Thanks for visiiting our blog. Typically, the benefit amount will remain the same. For 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. As far as benefits on your daughter, only certain family members can qualify. For more information, please read our publication, How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies. We hope this helps.

      Reply
  2. Charlene

    hi my husband just passed away but we been seperated for 13 years but still married will i get hus social security

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Charlene. We are sorry to hear about your loss.  If your marriage lasted for at least 10 years, you may be eligible for surviving divorced spouse benefits based on your ex-husband’s earnings, beginning at age 60. If you are disabled, you could begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if the disability started before or within 7 years of your ex-husband’s death. For additional information on Survivor benefits, check out our Survivors Planner. We hope this helps. 

      Reply
  3. Carmen

    I was married to a us citizen for 20 years, he passed away 1 year ago. But im not a legal resident of the usa, we were living in colombia for the whole 20 years of marriage, i never went to USA. Can I received his pension as a widow with out legal residency in usa? How can I apply to SSA?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Carmen. We are sorry to hear about your loss. In most cases, we stop payments to noncitizens after they are outside the United States for six calendar months in a row. If we stop your payments, we will not start them again until you return to the United States and remain for a full calendar month. We may continue to pay benefits to noncitizens outside of the United States if they meet certain conditions. 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.

      Reply
  4. Devona K.

    My husband passed away ,3 months ago.He was on SSD .I receive SSD since 2020 from my work record. I have applied for widow benefits.I am 58 . Currently I am waiting on a decision.I have kept all my medical appointments.What are the chances of me not receiving widow benefits.I am not working nor able too.

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Devona. 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.

      Reply
  5. Jimmie N.

    My spouse passed after a divorce and after twelve years of marriage. Am I entired to spouse benefits based on twelve years of marriage?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Jimmie. Thanks for your question. If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who died and you are not married, you may be eligible for benefits just the same as a widow or widower. For more information, please visit our webpage, Survivors Planner. We hope this information helps.

      Reply
  6. Debbie

    I have a question my husband 10yrs ago and I only received the social security benefits till my oldest turned 16 do I qualify for survivors benefits thank u

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Debbie. Thanks for your question. You are eligible to apply for widow’s benefits when you reach age 60 (age 50 or over if disabled). For more information about widow’s benefits, check out our Survivors Planner. We hope this helps. 

      Reply
  7. Doreen K.

    If my Social Security Disability Benefits are considerably higher than my husband’s Social Security, I should stay with my own benefits, correct? I’m 61 now, and Social Security told me that I would automatically switch over to the normal Social Security Benefits about 3 months before I turn over to 65. Is that cool?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Doreen. Thanks for your questions. To qualify for spouse’s benefits, your spouse must be receiving retirement or disability benefits. Keep in mind that if you qualify for your own benefits and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own benefits first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your own benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. Visit our Benefits Planner page for more information. As far as your disability benefits, when you reach full retirement age, your disability benefits automatically convert to retirement benefits, but the benefit amount remains the same. We hope this helps.

      Reply
  8. Irene F.

    Hi,I have a question, I had a cheating spouse and then one day he decides to leave and abandon me and my two kid’s leave use with nothin no money no food and in apt that he knew I couldn’t pay for and the kid’s are not his,he was the one working, I did work , but in Michigan he moved USE back to Houston., Anyways I didn’t hear from him for years, Till I had of his passing in June 19,2020 in a nursing home Coronavirus, and he was remarry and to the woman he was cheating with on me, I didn’t know I was divorced. I got the divorce papers and they don’t have the right name on it. It not my correct name and, I never signed any papers or got any papers. Far as I knew I was still married I never tried too divorce him. I did talk to a lawyer and they say that I’m he widower so am I entitled to his pension.

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Irene. Thanks for visiting our blog. Unfortunately, your comment is a bit more complex than we can handle in this forum. 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. Amanda

    My step sons mother passed away but we don’t know any info other than her name dob and her parents name and her parents refuse to give us her social security number or a copy of the death certificate. So how do we file for child survivor benefits without this info?

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Amanda. We are sorry to hear about the loss. The parent with custody should contact their local Social Security office for assistance. We hope this helps. 

      Reply
    • Eve W.

      I would think that all you need is the original birth certificate for your step children
      The social security office will figure out the rest

      Reply
  10. Allison

    Have a friends mother who is considering getting married for the 3rd time. She is receiving her first husbands Survivor benefits and that was bigger then her 2nd. If she marries for the 3rd time and he passes, can she go back to the 1st husbands benefits as they are bigger then the other two

    Reply
    • Ann C.

      Hi, Allison. Thanks for visiting our blog. Keep in mind widows that remarry after age 60 (age 50 if disabled), may continue to qualify for benefits on their deceased spouse’s Social Security record. Also, depending on her age, if her new spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, she may want to apply for spouse’s benefits on that record. If that amount is higher, she may be entitled to the higher amount, based on both records. Generally, she must be married for one year before she can get spouse’s benefits. Please visit our Frequently Asked Questions web page to see how marriage can affect Social Security benefits. We hope this helps.

      Reply

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