Benefits for Widows a Tad Confusing

In the old days, widows were forced to live with their companions rather than get married, because if they married, they would lose their survivor Social Security benefits. But under current law, women can keep their widow’s benefits at long as they are at least 60 years old when they remarry. But marriage still has an effect on how much Social Security you receive.

Take the case of Bob and Carol and Ted and Alice. Bob and Carol were married for 14 years. They are now getting divorced. When Bob reaches 65, he will receive $750 per month in Social Security, based on his earnings.

At age 65, Carol is entitled to receive $250 per month in Social Security, based on her earnings. But since she was married to Bob for more than 10 years before they divorced, Carol can receive an amount equal to half of Bob’s benefit, $375 a month. This has no effect on Bob’s monthly check. Since $375 is greater than $250, Carol will receive benefits based on Bob’s earnings. (If Carol’s earned benefits were $450 per month, she would likely choose to receive benefits based on her own earnings. Sorry, she can’t have both.)

If Bob later marries Alice and they divorce after 10 years, Alice also would be entitled to receive $375 per month based on Bob’s earnings.? (No matter how many women he marries, Bob still gets his $750 per month.)

If Carol remarries a man we’ll call Ted, now Bob is out of the picture, and so are his Social Security benefits. Carol will be entitled to collect spousal benefits based on Ted’s earnings history, not Bob’s. But if Carol divorces Ted after being married to him for at least 10 years, guess what? She will be able to receive benefits based on the earning histories of either Bob or Ted or her own account, whichever is highest.

If Bob dies before Carol marries Ted, Carol will be entitled to widow’s benefits, which approximate Bob’s full Social Security benefit, as long as she doesn’t remarry before age 60. How much will she get? She will get Bob’s full benefit at age 65, but she can opt to collect as early as age 60 if she will settle for less.

And if Alice is still married to Bob when he dies, Alice will also receive full widow’s benefits. And you were wondering why Social Security may go broke in 2032!



  1. I am 92 years old, have been a widow for 20 years, have no dependants, what is the standard deduction for U. S. income tax report?

  2. Kay Madden says:

    I was widowed in 2007 after 24 years of marriage. I remarried in 2011 at age 51 to Lee. We are now separated, and the separation ends in March of 2014. Lee will probably file for divorce at that time. Am I entitled to SSA from either of my husbands?

    • Once you are divorced, you will be entitled to widow benefits based on your deceased spouse’s social security record. You are currently entitled to spousal benefits based on Lee’s record, but those benefits will end upon divorce.

  3. I am a 60 year old widow. I plan to work till age 66 and by then my income will be higher than my husband’s who passed away 7 years ago at age 58. Should I take widow’s benefits now or wait. My income is above the limit.

    • Start collecting reduced widow’s benefit as soon as possible (age 60 is the earliest possible age) and wait as long as possible – to age 70 – to start collecting your own retirement benefit. The fact that you are collecting widow’s benefits early doesn’t affect your ability to collect your full benefits at age 66+, and if you wait until age 70 to collect your own benefits they will be enhanced by 8% a year for each year you wait after your full retirement age.

  4. Lisa Brown says:

    I am 33 and have been a widow since 2010. I collect widows benefits for myself and SS for our 2 children. In the state of Texas there is common law marriage. Would a common law marriage affect my benefits as a normal marriage would stop benefits?

    • To establish a common-law marriage in Texas, a man and a woman must sign a form provided by the county clerk, must agree to be married, live together and represent to others that they are married. If you have done all of that, you are remarried and thus ineligible to collect widows benefits for yourself, though benefits would continue for your children. I don’t know if the fact that you are currently collecting benefits would be an exception to that rule, so check with the Social Security Administration to find out.

  5. Karen Daniels says:

    I am 60 and my spouse will soon be 62 can he draw off of my benefits for disability since his is not sufficient to be able to draw his own( he worked self employed and did not pay in a lot) Also it is my understanding that if you draw early benefit at 62 then when he reach full retirement age his benefit will remain the same? But if you draw disability then you can get your full benefit when you turn of full retirement age??? Thank you

    • Once you are collecting retirement benefits, your husband can draw spousal benefits based on your record if those benefits exceed the benefits from his record. Once he is full retirement age of 66 he can choose which benefits to take, spousal benefits or his own. He cannot draw disability benefits on either of your records since he is not disabled.

  6. Heather Johnston says:

    My mother in law lost her husband 17 years ago at the age of 57. He was self employed most of his life and paid in quiet a bit of money. She says that she was never able to collect his social security benefits because he died before he started collecting. Is she confused or is this a possiblity?? She has been drawing her own social security benefits.

    • If he paid into the social security system, then he has a social security record, and she is entitled to widows benefits if they exceed her own. She should contact the Social Security Administration to make that determination.

  7. Diane Ruesch says:

    I am an employed 55 year old widow. My spouse died 15 months ago. Am I supposed to fill-out a SSA-10 form now (before the 2 year anniversary of his death) or wait until I am 62 when I plan to start collecting widow’s retirement benefit?

    • You may be eligible for a small lump sum death benefit as his widow, which you can get by filling out that form. You won’t get widow retirement benefits until age 62 unless you have children at home and earn minimal amounts.

  8. i was widowed in 1999 after being married 16 yrs. i remarried in 2002, got divorced in 2010. when i reach retirement age, will i be eligible to receive social security benefits from my first husband’?

  9. Missy married at age 19 to Bill, marriage lasted 16 yrs. Missy remarried age 37 to Roy, marriage lasted 6 yrs, when Missy was around 62 Roy died, at age 67 Missy remarried to Sam, after 4 months Missy moved to another state but never remarried. After 10 months Sam died. Can Missy get SS on Bill or Sam?

  10. forgot to say that MIssy moved to another state and never divorced Sam they were still married at time of death.

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