Social Security Benefits for a Widowed Spouse

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The Social Security Administration pays survivor benefits to you and other widowed spouses if your husband or wife passes away. In 2009, over 4.4 million widows and widowers received almost $4.9 billion in Social Security survivor benefits every month in the United States. The survivor benefits program has several age and marriage requirements for you to meet to qualify for payments.


As a widowed spouse, you must be a certain age to receive Social Security survivor benefits. Generally, you have to be at least 62 years old but you can receive payments at an earlier or later age. For example, you can receive payments as early as 50 years old or at any age if you are taking care of your dead husband’s children until they’re 16. You are also eligible for survivor benefits on your former spouse’s record if you remarry after the age of 60 or 50 and you’re disabled.

Payment Amounts

Your survivor benefit amounts are based on how much your deceased spouse earned and how old you are. You receive 100 percent of the full benefit rate if you are at full retirement age. Your retirement age is dependent on your birth date. If you are born between 1945 and 1961, your retirement age is 66 and its 67 if you’re born after 1962. You receive up to 71.5 percent of the benefit rate if you are between the ages of 50 to 59 and you’re disabled or 60 to retirement age. Up to 75 percent of the benefit rate is yours if taking care of your deceased spouse’s children who are under 16 years of age.


If you are currently working, you can receive Social Security survivor benefits at the same time. Your benefits are reduced by your earnings, but when you retire, your benefit amounts are increased as a result. If you are eligible to receive Social Security retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch from survivor benefits to those payments when you turn 62. You are also entitled to a special lump-sum death benefit of $255 as well (see Resources).


Your Social Security survivor benefits are subject to taxation if you have earnings or other taxable income. If your total income, including survivor benefits, exceeds $25,000 per year, 50 percent of your Social Security payments are taxed at normal income rates. If you have over $34,000 in annual income, up to 85 percent of your survivor benefits are subject to taxation (see Resources).