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Social Security for Widow(er)s

Survivor’s benefits provide benefits after the loss of one’s spouse based on the deceased spouse’s earning history. From the very beginning widow benefits were part of the program. A benefit for widowers was added in 1950.

There are two different programs by which a widow(er) can qualify for benefits.

Currently Insured Status

To qualify for this program, the primary worker (i.e., deceased) must have earned 6 credits in the last 13 quarters. Effectively this is half-time over the last year-and-a-half. Coverage is only for children under age 16 and the widow(er) who is caring for children receiving benefits.

Fully Insured Status

For the full program the requirements are, as expected, different. The primary worker must have the greater of 6 credits or a higher minimum based on the age at death. That number is the age at death minus 22. For example, at age 35 the primary worker must have accumulated 13 credits. Coverage is for spouses over age 60, children of the deceased, younger spouses who are caring for children receiving benefits, and the primary worker’s dependent parents.

To qualify for either program, you must have been married for 9 months. (There are exceptions for accidental death.) Benefits can start as early as age 50 if you are disabled at the time of death or within 7 years of the death. You must be unmarried unless you remarried after age 60.

The benefit is extremely complicated, and as there is not generally a planning opportunity related to death, it is not detailed here. It is dependent upon both whether or not the deceased started benefits before Full Retirement Age (FRA) or not, and whether you have reached your FRA or not. There is no advantage for waiting past your FRA (i.e., no Delayed Retirement Credits or DRCs) so once you reach your FRA you should begin your benefits. Before FRA the Annual Earnings Test (AET) does apply, but deeming does not apply to survivor benefits. (See the page for couples for information on deeming.)

If you have not reached your FRA and are considering beginning your survivor benefits, you should get a customized analysis; we can do that for you.