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!


97 thoughts on “Benefits for Widows a Tad Confusing”

  1. I was married to my husband for 14 years he died Nov. 2019 he was 67 and I am 54. I was told when I called that I’m not eligible for his benefits of any kind. Which I haven’t worked for 12 years of our marriage. I am to young, not disabled, and all of our children are adults .
    Is there any benefits that I can draw off of him ?
    Thank you ,
    Madonna C

        1. Yes, you are eligible for widow retirement benefits, once you are at least 60, when you could get reduced benefits, or if you wait until age 67 you could get full benefits. And if you have his minor children at home, you may be eligible for caregiver benefits.

    1. Aged widows benefits beginning at age 60. Disable widows benefits from age 50-60 if you are under a disability,

        1. Do you have to pay taxes on one lump sum widow benefits?? How long can I collect if I do not take the lump sum?

          1. It isn’t clear from your pension what widow benefits you are talking about. If it is something through his employment or an insurance policy that he owned, then talk to the administrator of the policy or plan to find out the answers to your questions. If you are talking about social security widow benefits, those are monthly social security payments for life that you would receive if the amount exceeds your own benefits, and you can begin getting full benefits at normal retirement age or reduced benefits as early as age 60. The taxability of the benefits depends on your other income.

  2. I am currently on SSDI. My husband of one year just died. He was 60when he died and I am now 62. Can I collect my ssdi and survivor benefits at the same timr.

    1. You will receive your current SSDI check plus the difference, if it’s positive, between your survivor benefit and your own disability insurance benefit. In other words, you’ll receive what’s known as an excess survivor benefit. But if your current SSDI is greater than the survivor benefit, then you’ll continue receiving that SSDI amount.

  3. Hi. I’m totally disabled since age 34 was receiving ssi benfits because i did work the required work history. My husband past when i was 51. Im now drawing widows disablity benfits from my deceased husband my son is also totally disable age since birth he now collects adult disablity from his deceased father. Before this he was receiving SSI. Am i able to receive benfits for taking care of my adult son and also keep my benfits

    1. You can ask the Social Security Administration that question, but it is likely that the widow benefits you receive are greater than those you’d receive as a caregiver, and likely you are limited to taking one or the other. Of course you’d take the higher amount.

  4. Just reading half this upsets me.. I’ve (still am) working all my life.. my husband passed at 48 years of age do to cancer.. I have well over the `required years of work`.. he did also.. he filed for SSI disability.. got approved. But died before able to collect.. we have no children under 16.. and I’m not disabled..(yet).. meaning the BS is ridiculous.. the few that fall into the black hole, get no help until 60.??? Really.. guess the good old boys didn’t think of the working class, that LOST over half their monthly income needed any help.. time for a big change!!!!

    1. I agree with you Mary. Something needs to change. These men want to marry older and they pass , then we are Still Stuck in what you called appropriately the Black Hole of no help.

  5. My husband passed away 16 years ago. I will be 60 this July. Do I have to wait until my actual birthday in July to begin the process of widow benefits or can I apply now with it being effective in July?


  6. My husband passed away, he was on SS, we were married for 17 years. I am 56 and working with a daughter that is 17, she and my husband were both getting benefits. Do I qualify for any benefit ongoing, or do I have to wait till I’m 60?
    Thank you

    1. A widow can begin collecting reduced social security surviving spouse benefits as early as age 60. A widow of any age who is caring for a child under age 16 is entitled to benefits worth 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit amount. The child is also entitled to a survivor benefit equal to 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit until the child turns 18 (or 19 if still in high school).

  7. My husband passed away 31 years ago and my son and I received survivors befits unroll my son turned 16. I am 51 now and I am disabled with kidney failure and now receive disability. Can I start getting my survivor benefits again and how much should I expect??? Thank you for your time.

  8. Thank you for the reply. Much appreciated.

    I am confused. Perhaps you can clarify.

    As a widow, I thought that getting survivor benefits at 60 years on my husband’s SS is independent and does not impact my own SS benefits.

    In other words, when I stop survivor’s benefits at 67 and start getting benefits under my own SS at full retirement age of 67 I will get full benefits. Is this correct?

    1. You may be correct. Here’s what the Social Security Administration says at their website:

      If a person receives widow’s or widower’s benefits, and will qualify for a retirement benefit that’s more than their survivors benefit, they can switch to their own retirement benefit as early as age 62 or as late as age 70. The rules are complicated and vary depending on the situation. Talk to a Social Security representative about the options available.

      The problem here, of course, is that the Social Security representatives are well versed on ordinary situations, but their training is spotty in these specialized areas, so you may need to talk to a supervisor.

  9. Hello,

    I am trying to find an answer to a straightforward generic question, but the Socila Security site is so complicated …

    My mother’s husband died very recently and suddenly at age 78; my mother is 77,and was married to her husband for 23 years. I’ll call my stepdad Michael and and my mom Lesley. Michael received a payment of SS of approximately $1600 a month (after The Medicare reduction) and Lesley received half that amount as it was based on Michael’s benefit. Mom is in a state of grief right now,but we need to know whether it is true that she will in future receive the same amount as Michael received before his death, that is, approx 1600.00 (or will her benefit remain at $800, the half amount?) . Any advice you can give me will be much appreciated. Neither one of them have worked for well over ten years, and then it was minuscule pocket money.

    1. Your mom will begin receiving benefits that are 100% of what her husband got, not just the 50% she was receiving before. Contact social security to be sure they know she’s his widow so they can pay her the correct amount. It may take a few months for the system to begin paying her widow benefits, but don’t worry, they will send her a lump sum for any increased payments that were missed in their transition to her new status.

  10. I will be 60 years old this May. I plan on retiring from my job in June. My pension will be from teachers retirement systems. My question is can I start my widows benefit and place it on hold after I remarry? I am planning to work part-time.

  11. My father passed last month at age 85. He was receiving Social Security. He is survived by my mother, his spouse of 65 years. She worked outside the home and receives Social Security from her own retirement. How will her survivor benefit be calculated? And how should we proceed with requesting this survivor benefit? Thanks

    1. If his benefits exceeded what your mom receives on her own earnings, then her widow benefits may exceed her own benefits and they will bump up what she receives each month. You can call social security or contact them through their website and find out what you should do. If you do nothing, in several months they will automatically make the computation, and if she’s due a higher benefit, they will notify her that her payment is increasing and that she will receive a lump sum for the increased benefits retroactive to the month of your father’s death.

  12. My husband died in May of 2013, I decided to take my own ssi at 62 and then widows benefits at 66.
    In 2013 social security quoted me a widows benefit of $1,546. + 8% increase every year until I reach 66 (8/2017). When I went to the social security office last week they quoted me a benefit amount of $1,502.00, when I asked her why it went down instead of up, she said the rates had changes.
    After going home, something just didn’t set right with me, I understand the rates my have gone down in 4 year since I first applied but that seems like a big decrease, considering the 8% increase a year they quoted me on the initial benefit in 2013 if I waited till 2017. Can you shed any light on this.

    1. I don’t know the answer to that question. If they showed you how it would be computed back in 2013 (what his PIA was, etc), you could find out the same information now and compare them to see if you were given back information back in 2013.

  13. I am 49 years old, my husband of 27 years passed away in March of 2013 ,i have no income at the moment, can i apply for Widows benefit.

  14. I signed a prenup 10 yrs. ago and I am not intitled to any of his monies or property before marriage . He recently sold his personal property and asked if I would file a joint return and his accountant said it will not affect my disability check , my part B was affected over this and now I don’t make enough to live on , can I do anything about this legally ?

    1. You will need to consult with an attorney to see if there is some sort of appeal that you could do based on the existence of the prenup and its terms denying you any portion of the funds. In the future, do not take legal advice from his attorney, and especially not his accountant, who is not trained in the law.

  15. Cathy Reynolds Cherry

    I’m 62 and want to know why I can’t draw my deceased husband benifits ? He never remarried , I am married and disabled and don’t draw enough to survive on . Was told that if I divorce my husband now that I could draw my deceased husband benifits .please help !

  16. My husband died at age 52 after 32 years of marriage. I was 50. Can I claim his benefit at 60 ? Do I get his benefit and mine or just one based on who’s is higher? Also can I remarry before 60 or do I lose widow benefit ?

    1. You can receive widow benefits at age 60, reduced because you are collecting before full retirement age, provided that you are not remarried at that time, or that you remarried at age 60 or older. If your own benefits are higher, you will see an increase in your benefits at age 62 when you begin collecting those instead of the widow benefits.

  17. My husband was 56 when he died. I was told that I could take early retirement on my record ( I was 63 when I took early retirement) and when I turn 66 I can claim widow benefits and receive his full benefit. Is this true?

  18. My husband died May 2013 and was on SSDI. I was employed at the time but my job was eliminated Febuary 2016. I will be 58 next month. I filed for SSDI as I have severe rheumatoid disease but I was denied. I even had to see one of SS’s drs. My hands are disfigured and I am in pain. I now have a SS lawyer. I receive $350/month from my late husband’s employer, General Motors. I do not receive his pension bc he took the higher monthly amount. I made less money than him so I will be collecting from his SS. I am using my 401k to survive right now and also receiving SNAP. I have health insurance through General Motors. I cannot get any help with my rent which is my biggest expense. Any advice on how I can survive until my disability comes through?

  19. Here’s a doozie!

    Born in 1959.

    I was disabled and got married. He died, they put me on SSI until I turned 50 and then put me on Survivor’s Benefits.

    I remarried a man that’s disabled and draws SSDI. A lot less than I am drawing on my deceased husband’s Soc. Sec. I currently get $998 after they take out for Medicare. I was told some years ago that when I reach retirement age, they will reduce my monthly check.

    Do you have any idea what that percentage is? And also, I had talked to the caseworker about working and he stated that I could earn the yearly limit without it affecting my benefit.

    So, we are both looking at getting hit with reductions of our checks in a couple of years and we are both trying to figure out what in the world we are going to do to earn some extra money when that happens. Do I understand correctly that they count our earnings separately against our own checks? And if it is through some kind of self-employment, are the earnings counted after all of the cost of supplies and such are taken out?

    Also, if we pay Soc. Sec. on our earnings, do we get a bigger check later?

    1. If you remarried after age 60, you can continue collecting widow’s benefits on your deceased spouse’s earnings history. There is no requirement that you switch to your own retirement benefits when you reach retirement age, unless your own benefits are higher. When he reaches retirement age, his disability benefits convert to become social security retirement benefits. I thought the amount remained the same as he was collecting before, but he can check with social security office to find out for sure.

      Social Security retirement benefits are based on your top 35 years of earnings. If what you earn now is greater than some of the past 35 years (for example, in some of the past years you earned nothing), then the social security that you are paying will result in a slightly bigger check.

  20. I lost my husband of 22 years at 45 years old, he was 50. I want to collect the widow benefit at 60 (my husband earned 5 times what I did) and know that I cannot be married. Am I able to get married in the meantime, but get divorced before I turn 60?

    1. The requirements to collect widow’s benefits are that you are 60 or older and not married, unless your marriage occurred when you were 60 or older. So if you are divorced or unmarried when you reach 60, you can collect benefits under current law, as far as I know. You can check with Social Security to be sure.

  21. My mother has recently become a widow unexpectedly after 30 years of marriage. She is 51, and my father passed away at 51 after working for 30+ years. Does she have to wait until she is 60 to start claiming the widows benefit? Is there any other benefit she can apply for? Both of their children are over the age of 16.
    Thank you!

    1. She will not be eligible for social security widow benefits until she is age 60, at which point she will receive reduced benefits since she is collecting before age 66. There is also a small burial benefit to which she is probably entitled. She could inquire of his employer whether there are any retirement benefits to which she might be entitled, or any other benefits provided by the company for which he worked.

  22. I am 60. My husband died at age 65. Married for 42 years. I am on social security disability. I also receive widow’s benefit of 9.00 per month. If I lose my SSDI, will I be eligible to get widow’s benefits. Could I return to work and still receive widow’s benefits? Would they be reduced? Thanks!!!

  23. My husband was killed we have been married for 16 years and we have 3 children 16 and under he was 38 am i entiled to anything

    1. You may be entitled to a small payment from social security due to his death. And you are entitled to social security benefits for your children and possibly for yourself. Contact Social Security right away.

  24. Barbara Jacobs

    I was widowed at age 49. I see so much about a widow taking her survivor’s benefits and then switching to her own at 66 (or 70 for increased benefits) but in my case, I began taking my own retirement at age 62 and want to switch to his at age 66 (in a couple of months). His benefit is almost 4 times as much as mine is and I held off so I would receive the higher amount. I just talked with social security office who told me I wouldn’t get his full benefit because I took my own at age 62. This is not what I was originally told and now I am scared to death. Can this person have told me wrong?

  25. State of South Carolina. My ex passed away 4 years ago. I was married to my ex for 5 years. We did not make the 10 year mark but they said since I have two children under the age of 16 that are his kids they said I still qualify for widower’s benefits. I recall SS stating widower’s benefits will end when my oldest turns 16? Is it my oldest or when the youngest turns 16? Also my kids and I needed insurance. I was living with and had a child with the man I am with now when my ex died. The SS said then that it did not matter we was living together that I still receive the benefits. But now that we needed insurance, we filled out insurance paperwork for common law to get on his policy at his work. We have filed taxes together the past 2 years (not thinking common law then) it was not until last week that we claimed ourselves as common law but only to his insurance company. It was not through the courthouse or clerk of court. The insurance company sent us the paperwork to fill out. With all of that being done, I don’t want to do anything wrong so do I still qualify for widowers benefits or what is my next step if anything? Thank u so very much for any advice!

  26. Simple question I cant seem to get the answer to or are not understanding the rules….can I collect widow benefits and any other benefits I may be entitled to at the same time?

  27. Khriss lyn holbrook

    I am 34 and have been a widow for ten years. I also have a daughter with my deceased husband. My daughter is living with my brother for the time being but not permanent. Do I still get my benefits?

  28. I am a widow as of three months and my husband was 49 when he passed away unexpected this year in February. I lost my job and unemployment is not wanting to give me any help. Can I collect my husband’s social security now or do I have to wait until I am retired ? Thank you for any help that you can give.

      1. Thank you for your comments – If I am understanding you correctly – since I am only 56 I can collect my deceased husband benefits when I turn 60 ? And does it make a differance if I am working ? I guess I have so many questions – do you think if I went to talk with Social Sercuirty they would give me the information I need ? Again Thank you

        1. Ginita Wall, CPA, CFP

          Yes, do ask Social Security for answers to your questions. I don’t believe that widow benefits are reduced for your earnings, but they are reduced if you begin before full retirement age.

  29. In 1983, in Texas, Dora & Ralph. established a common-law marriage thru name & ss card changes ,multi-blood relatives, friends, same habitat, as husband in wife. In 1984, we got a notorized marriage app. and then purchased a license, and also had our first child, carried us both on income, and had 2nd child born in 1986. Due to the worlds data being changed to computers, a lot of data was lost, that had been hand written before, it was stated during that time, a lot of certificates of any kind of marriages, was lost(hand written) due to that, our licensees didn’t get recorded. Since then, in 2004 , my husband deceased, and I found a marriage app. notorized stating, common law written& signed,by Ralph and myself,and. a witness. We had a private ceremony. In 2001, I became disabled,2004 he passed away. I again was acknowledged as his surviving spouse & two children, thru a decree of a lawsuit,that pertained to his death. All that has mentioned, going on 51, and disabled, do I have enough to satisfy SS. Or do I need to file a probate in court. Thank you.

  30. 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?

  31. 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’?

  32. 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?

    1. 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.

  33. Heather Johnston

    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.

    1. 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.

  34. 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

    1. 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.

  35. 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?

    1. 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.

      1. I’m 41 And my spouse died Oct.2017 he never worked I’m I eligible for spousal benefits with SSA or any benefits with SSA

  36. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. I am a widow and not have remarried.

        If I take my survivor’s benefit at 60 which is a reduced amount, will my own SS benefit at full retirement age at 67 going to be reduced amount because I started collecting survivor reduced benefit at 60? Or will I get my full benefit when I switch to my own benefits at 67 ?
        Thank you.

        1. Betty Jane Treviño

          I’ve been a widow since 2010 have not remarried not getting any benefits only one getting benefits is my disabled son which he’s 32 years old now and he’s getting partial of the survivor pension is anyone have any information for me I hear from his case manager I should be getting something I am 56 years old and my husband died when I was 47 any info would be appreciated I have contacted Social Security office and they have no clue but just determined I didn’t qualify for any benefits of his

          1. Social Security would not know whether you should be getting benefits from your husband’s pension, you’d need to contact the plan administrator to find out that information. A widow can begin getting reduced social security retirement benefits as early as age 60 (full benefits if you wait until age 66, but you are only 56, so you will not be getting social security at this time.

  37. 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?

    1. 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.

  38. 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?

        1. Your legal name has no bearing on what you are entitled to once your divorce is final. If your divorce agreement provided that you were entitled to certain assets (for example retirement plans, bankaccount balances) then that is what you get. As for social security retirement benefits, you may be entitled to divorced spouse benefits or surviving divorced spouse benefits if he dies, as long as you are of retirement age and were married for at least 10 years.

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