Social Security Benefits When A Spouse (or Ex-Spouse) Dies


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When a Social Security beneficiary dies, their widow or widower can be eligible for benefits on their deceased spouse’s record.

These benefits can start earlier than normal Social Security benefits, which is a lifesaver for many people who need to fill the income gap that’s created by a deceased spouse. Starting widows or widowers benefits early though is not the best option for everyone.

We go over everything you need to know, including the requirements you must meet, to collect Social Security benefits on your deceased spouse!

Social Security: Widows and Widowers

If you are a widow or widower, there are Social Security benefits you should learn about. Don’t miss out on extra money!

If your spouse passes away before starting Social Security:

If your spouse passes away during working years, you are eligible to receive Social Security benefits on their record starting as early as age 60.

Even if your spouse was older and already taking their Social Security benefit, you cannot start a survivors benefit until you are 60 years old. The only exception to this is if you are caring for children who are either under 16 or disabled. In this situation, there is a possibility you could start collecting a Social Security benefit earlier than 60.

If you are widowed a remarry before age 60, you lose the ability to claim off your deceased spouse. If this marriage ends, you regain the ability to claim survivors benefits.

If you remarry after age 60, there is no effect on your ability to claim Social Security benefits on your deceased spouse.

If you start a survivors benefit at age 60, the benefit will be reduced from it’s full amount. To receive the full amount, you would have to wait until your Full Retirement Age (FRA) to start your benefit. You can learn more about what your Full Retirement Age is here.

There is one strategy that allows you to get some money while letting your own benefit grow if you are a widow or widower. If you also worked during your career and are going to have a sizable Social Security benefit, this strategy might work for you.

For example, Ellen and Bill both worked their entire lives. When Ellen was 58, Bill passed away. At age 60, Ellen applied for survivors benefits on Bill’s record. Then, when she hit her Full Retirement Age, which is age 67, she switched over and started collecting her own benefit.

This strategy allows her benefit to grow while she is still getting a check from Social Security on Bill’s record. This is not going to be right for everyone and needs careful planning to make sure everything is done correctly. Cardinal can help you with this.

Listen to learn more about Social Security Survivors Benefits:

If your spouse passes away after starting Social Security:

If you have started Social Security, meaning both you and your spouse are collecting Social Security checks, and your spouse dies, the smaller check will go away.

For example, Mike and Colleen are both 69 years old and have started their Social Security benefits. Mike’s benefit is $3,000 a month and Colleen’s benefit is $1,500 a month.

If Mike passes away first, Colleen will start receiving the $3,000 check, but the $1,500 check will go away. If Colleen passes first, the $1,500 check also goes away.

No matter what happens, when one part of the couple dies, there will be a significant loss of income. We recommend everyone in retirement have at least $25,000 worth of life insurance to make up for this immediate loss of income.

If your ex-spouse passes away:

If you have been divorced, but meet some requirements, such as being married for at least 10 years and not being remarried before age 60, you can qualify for Social Security benefits on your ex-spouse’s record.

We go into a deeper dive about Social Security benefits for divorcees here, but if your ex-spouse dies, you are treated the same as a spouse that was married, even if your ex-spouse got remarried.

This means there is a possibility you could start collecting widows benefits as early as age 60, even if you are not married anymore.

Many divorcees will collect their own benefit, and when their ex-spouse passes, switch to collecting survivors benefits.

For example, Janet was married to Chris for 30 years, they divorced, and Janet never remarried. When she turned 66, she started collecting her own benefit, as she worked all her life and had a full benefit that was higher than 50% of Chris’s benefit.

If Chris passes away before Janet, Janet could elect to start receiving Chris’ full benefit if it was larger than hers, just like a married spouse would be able to keep the larger of the 2 checks. It does not matter if Chris was remarried or not.

As you can see, Social Security can be complicated for everyone, but especially for those who have lost a spouse. Cardinal can get you a free Social Security timing report and go over your options to maximize your benefits. Fill out the form below to get started!

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