Can I Draw Retirement and Widow's Benefits?

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A widow may qualify to receive benefits paid by the Social Security Administration (SSA) based on her work record or the work history of her deceased husband. While a widow may be eligible to collect survivor benefits based on her husband’s work record and retirement benefits based on her own, she cannot collect both simultaneously. If a widow receives a lesser survivor benefit before initiating her receipt of retirement benefits at her full retirement age, the SSA will adjust the amount of her monthly payments to equal the maximum benefit available to her.

Work Credits

The SSA requires a person to earn a certain number of work credits before she or her family is eligible to receive SSA benefits. The SSA determines the number of credits needed to qualify for benefits based on a person’s age but does not require someone to earn more than 40 at any age. A person earns one credit for each calendar quarter she works and earns at least $1,120 as of August 2011, up to a maximum of four credits per year. In addition to paying benefits to a qualified worker, the SSA may pay survivor or disability benefits to a qualified worker’s family members based on her single work record. A worker’s family members who may qualify to receive SSA benefits include her current and former spouses, children, stepchildren, grandchildren and parents.

Full Retirement Age

A full retirement age is assigned to a person by the SSA depending on her year of birth. People born in 1944 have a full retirement age of 66 while people born in 1960 or after have a full retirement age of 67, for instance. A person may begin receiving SSA benefits before she reaches her full retirement age, but the SSA increasingly reduces the benefit amount she receives the farther away she is from her full retirement age when she begins receiving payments.

Survivor Benefits

A widow may choose to begin receiving SSA survivor benefits as early as age 60, or 50 if disabled. If a widow chooses to receive survivor benefits after age 60 but before her full retirement age, the SSA will pay her between 71 and 99 percent of her deceased husband’s accrued benefit. A widow generally receives 100 percent of her deceased husband’s benefit if she postpones receiving SSA payments until her full retirement age. A widow may receive 75 percent of her deceased husband’s benefit at any age if she is the primary caregiver of the decedent’s biological or legally adopted child who is under 16 or disabled.

Retirement Benefits

Based on her own work record, a widow can choose to begin receiving retirement benefits as early as age 62. If a widow’s retirement benefit is higher than what she collects as a survivor benefit, the SSA will replace her survivor benefits with her accumulated retirement benefits. The SSA will increase the widow’s SSA monthly payments to equal 100 percent of her accrued retirement benefit if she postpones receiving her retirement benefits until she reaches her full retirement age.


About the Author

Deborah Barlowe began writing professionally in 2010. With experience in earning securities and insurance licenses and having owned a successful business, her articles have focused predominantly on finance and entrepreneurship. Barlowe holds a bachelor’s degree in hotel administration from Cornell University.

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