Understanding Spouse’s Benefits

January 24, 2019 • By

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Last Updated: May 25, 2021

" "Marriage is a cultural institution that exists all over the world. Having a partner means sharing many things including a home and other property. Understanding how your future retirement might affect your spouse is important. When you’re planning for your fun and vibrant golden years, here are a few things to remember:

Your full spouse’s benefit could be up to 50 percent of your spouse’s full retirement age amount if you are full retirement age when you take it. If you qualify for your own retirement benefit and a spouse’s benefit, we always pay your own benefit first.  You cannot receive spouse’s benefits unless your spouse is receiving his or her retirement benefits (except for divorced spouses). If you took your reduced retirement first while waiting for your spouse to reach retirement age, when you add spouse’s benefits later, your own retirement portion remains reduced which causes the total retirement and spouses benefit together to total less than 50 percent of the worker’s amount. You can find out more on our website.

On the other hand, if your spouse’s retirement benefit is higher than your retirement benefit, and he or she chooses to take reduced benefits and dies first, your survivor benefit will be reduced, but may be higher than what your spouse received.

If the deceased worker started receiving reduced retirement benefits before their full retirement age, a special rule called the retirement insurance benefit limit may apply to the surviving spouse. The retirement insurance benefit limit is the maximum survivor benefit you may receive. Generally, the limit is the higher of:

  • The reduced monthly retirement benefit to which the deceased spouse would have been entitled if they had lived, or
  • 82.5 percent of the unreduced deceased spouse’s monthly benefit if they had started receiving benefits at their full retirement age (rather than choosing to receive a reduced retirement benefit early).

Knowing how your finances affect your spouse’s can help both of you avoid future impacts on your incomes. When it comes to information, we have over 80 years of experience. Access a wealth of useful information by visiting our benefits planners.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Roger D.

    So I am 83 and my spouse is 64. He took benefits at 62 so when I die he gets nothing from my benefits

  2. Ruth W.

    What if my spouse died before he received social security even if he was of age to retire? He was getting disability for diabetes and leg amputation due to being diabetic.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Ruth. We are very sorry for your loss. If your deceased spouse was receiving Social Security disability benefits when he passed away, we will base your survivor benefit on that amount. Widows benefit are payable as early as age 60 (for a reduced benefit) or a full widows benefit at full retirement age or older.

      Use our Survivors Planner for additional details.

  3. Johnny W.

    I married on June 10 2017. I started collecting disability from SS in 2012 because of stage 4 cancer of my vocal cord, COPD, Heart attack and 5 strokes. I was declared 100% disabled. I now collect $1035 per month and my disability has moved into retirement because I turned 67 last August 13th 2017.
    My wife just file for early retirement and she receives a little over $1800/month. We wanted to buy a home so we could retire. We did and our mortgage is almost $1700/month. Before she applied, she was working and earning approximately $72,000/year. She owned her 2014 Ford Edge and I had a total loss 2003 Ford Minivan and I needed a vehicle. So I purchased a 2018 Ford Explorer Base package, my notes are $640/month. Our car insurance is a little over $220/month, and our household bills are well over $1000. Then she lost her great paying job and was denied Unemployment. For 4 months we sold our home and downsized from a home she owned prior and paid all of our credit cards off that we existed on for the 4 months she was out of work in access of $25,000. We are now back up to $13,000 in credit card debt because she got a new job and is earning 1/2 of what she was making at her previous job. She has supporting her grandson who is now 10 yrs old. since he was just 2 years old because her mother was in prison for stealing over $30,000 from her and also drug possession charges. She has had full custody of our grandson since he was 2. We just charged our credit cards to adopt him and we are still providing him every thing in life all sports, school, food, clothing and insurance.
    She just started collecting her retirement a couple of months ago and we are in financial ruins and are drowning in dept. She gets $250/month for his care through Social Security. Our adoption is in it’s ladder stages and waiting for the Representative to come visit our home. Then we sign the papers.
    Please help us!

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Johnny. Under current law, Social Security can only pay benefits to grandchildren if certain conditions are met. In addition to providing for more than 50% of their support as you are doing now, the biological parents of the children must be deceased or disabled, or you must have legally adopted them. See “Benefits For Grandchildren” for more information.

  4. Dorassoc

    Thank you for the confusing article. As a Social Security workshop leader I am always looking for government examples as to why you need my workshop. The article will no doubt provide a surge in enrollment.

  5. Martha L.

    This is one of the most confusing things that I have read

  6. Cristen L.

    I have misplaced my SS card and need a replacement. Could you please send me a replacement to:

    CL Bagby
    1300 Mountain Laurel Cir
    Harrisburg,PA 171110

    Phone: 717 545 1870

    • Kenny O.

      Hi, Cristen. First, realize you may not need a replacement card. You will rarely need to show it. Knowing your Social Security number is what is important. To see if you’re eligible to apply for a replacement Social Security card online or to learn more on the process and what documents you will need to get a card, please visit our Social Security Number and Card web page. Thanks.

      • OP

        Why don’t you take this post down? This info should not be public. And off topic!

      • Mike

        REAL ID in PA requires you to have an original SS card, with name the same as your proof of identity document

  7. Deborah W.

    I am on disability due to injuries received in a car wreck in 2010. Will my disability amount increase or decrease now that I’ve turned 62?

    • Kenny O.

      Hello Deborah. Once a person reaches their full retirement age, we automatically convert their disability benefits to retirement benefits, but the amount remains the same. The individual will receive a written notice of the change. If you have specific questions regarding your benefits, you can also call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Representatives are available Monday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Generally, you’ll have a shorter wait time if you call later in the day. We hope this helps!

      • Deborah S.

        Thank you

  8. Frank

    If I take my benifit at FRA and pass away and my .wife took her benifit early Would her widow benifit be 100% of mine if she was at FRA when I passed.
    Thank you

    • Kenny O.

      Hello Frank. You got it!. Remember that your survivor benefit amount is based on your earnings over your working life. The more you paid into Social Security, the higher your widow’s benefit will be. If you start receiving reduced benefits and then passed away, your wife’s survivors benefit will be based on that amount.

      If your wife started receiving retirement benefits based on her own record, at the point of your demise, her retirement benefit amount will be considered to see if it is less than the amount she could receive as your survivor. Using the example you gave, she would be entitled to your 100% FRA amount.

      See our Survivors Planner for more information. We hope this helps. Thanks.

    • tonya

      I would like to know iwas married 10 yrs and I understand I can draw on him but I’m disabled so at what age is best to draw on him 50 I think I read u can draw if hes retired age or do I need to wait tell I’m 62 or what age

      • Ann C.

        Hi, Tonya. Thanks for your comment. To be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, you had to be married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, be age 62 or older, and you cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. For more information, visit our Benefits Planner: If You Are Divorced. We hope this helps.

  9. Elizabeth M.

    Yes, I have different question, mine is about if you are already on dissability!!! My situation is different my husband and I had been married 20 years or more I started drawing my DISSABILITY when I was 42, I worked all my life till that point and I maDE good wages so , I had married but I was a VICTIM of a crime when I was younger. A very serious crime I was kidnapped torturd all night almost killed the man that done this got 2 99 year sentences, very serious crime. My husband had several different things wrong he drew his dissability for 8 years before passing, I’m guessing but he had a massive stroke which left him completely paralyzed on 1 side had had a prior hip surgery then after his stroke HD became septic in that hip, and it had to be taken out, he was completely bed bound!! But when he died he had turned 62 he had a birthday in April and he died on aug.6 2017, I was I was 55 when he died, he drawer 1,372.00 monthly and I drew 1,037.00 monthly So I go report the death they said I would draw my check but a small portion of his, which ended up being 240.00 monthly!! So WHAT I’M ASKING IS THAT REALLY THE RIGHT AMOUNT??? BECAUSE OUR BILLS WERE BASED ON THIS AMOUNT IT DID NOT SEEM RIGHT!!

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Elizabeth, thank you for using our blog to ask your question. The monthly amount you would get as a widow is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of benefit you are eligible to receive. If you file for disabled widow’s benefits between the ages of 50 through 59, you are eligible for 71.5 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit. Use our Survivors Planner to look at the various survivor benefit amounts.

  10. Terril G.

    My wife has advanced Alzheimer’s. I’m guessing she will pass before me. Her monthly SS income is higher than mine. Can I receive her amount rather than mine on her passing?

    • OP

      The short answer is YES.

    • Vonda V.

      Hi Terril, thank you for your question. Your survivor amount would be based on your wife’s earnings. The more she paid into Social Security, the higher her benefit will be. If your wife already filed for benefits prior to passing away, survivors benefits are based on that amount. The percentage of that amount that you would receive depends on how old you are when you file as a widower. We are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record, meaning you don’t get both retirement and widowers benefits but the higher of the two.

      Widowers benefit are payable as early as age 60 (for a reduced benefit) or a full widowers benefit at full retirement age or older.

      Use our Survivors Planner to look at how families are protected if the worker dies.

Comments are closed.