The Social Security Administration (SSA) allows widows and widowers to collect retirement and disability benefits based on their deceased spouses' work records. The SSA identifies the age at which a person may begin collecting benefits based on a person's current marital status, length of marriage, health and dependents. The SSA determines the amount of a surviving spouse's retirement benefit based on the benefit of the deceased and the age at which the survivor chooses to begin receiving payments.
If a couple is legally married when a spouse who qualified to receive SSA benefits based on his work records dies, the SSA considers the survivor eligible to receive retirement benefits regardless of the length of the couple's marriage. For a survivor to begin collecting retirement benefits, he must be at least 60 years old. The SSA begins payments to a disabled survivor as early as the recipient's 50th birthday.
If a survivor divorced his spouse before her death, the SSA still considers him eligible to receive benefits if he satisfies certain criteria. The SSA pays a divorced survivor retirement benefits if he is at least 60 years old, was married to the deceased for at least 10 years, does not qualify for SSA benefits based on his work history that at least equal those he will receive based on the deceased's record and has not remarried. The SSA considers a divorced survivor who remarries after 60 eligible to receive benefits based on his former spouse's work record. A divorced survivor qualifies for SSA disability benefits if he is at least 50 years old, single and was married to the deceased for at least a decade. If a disabled survivor remarries after 50, the SSA considers him eligible to receive benefits based on the deceased's work record.
Regardless of whether a couple is married or divorced at the time a worker who qualifies for SSA benefits dies, the SSA considers the survivor eligible for benefits if he cares for the deceased's biological or legally adopted child. To receive benefits, the child must be under 16 or receiving SSA disability benefits based on the deceased's work history.
Full Retirement Age
Workers and survivors receive larger benefits if they wait until their respective full retirement ages before starting to receive SSA retirement benefits. A person increases the amount of his SSA payments the closer he is to his full retirement age when he begins receiving them. The SSA defines full retirement age differently for survivors than for workers, however. Full retirement age for a survivor depends on the person's year of birth and ranges between 65 and 67.
The SSA identifies 65 as full retirement age for survivors born during or before 1939. For survivors born after 1940 and before 1962, the SSA incrementally increases its definition of full retirement age. A survivor born in 1944 reaches full retirement age at 65 and 10 months while one born in 1957 reaches full retirement age at 66 and two months, for instance. The SSA assigns a full retirement age of 67 to survivors born during or after 1962.
- Social Security Online; What Every Woman Should Know; July, 2009
- Social Security Online; Understanding the Benefits; January, 2011
- Social Security Online: If You Are the Worker's Widow or Widower
- Social Security Online: If You Are Divorced
- Social Security Online: Social Security Benefit Amounts for the Surviving Spouse by Year of Birth
- Today's Seniors: How Long Must I Be Married to Collect Benefits When a Spouse Dies?