Survivor Benefits: Four Tips Widows Need to Know 

May 27, 2022

Published on Social Security Matters (Social Security Blog)
by Guest Author: Cindy Hounsell, President, Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement

Months 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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