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What Widows Should Know about Social Security Benefits? A Breakdown of Potential Options.

After unimaginable loss, widows are left to reimagine a life and a future without their spouse. With an overwhelming amount to consider, it can be hard to know what needs to be done. As you begin to plan your financial future you will need to consider what survivor’s benefits or death benefits you might be able to receive from government sources, your spouse’s employers, and various retirement plans.

Social Security Benefits

Social Security benefits may be paid to widows after the loss of their spouse if their spouse was self-employed or employed at a company that paid Social Security taxes.

These benefits must be applied for through the Social Security Administration. It's recommended to apply for the death benefit within a month of losing your loved one. Your eligibility depends on the following requirements:

Was married to the deceased for nine or more months (unless death was accidental or military-related)

OR Is the parent to a biological or adopted child of the deceased.



Fully or currently insured

Has not remarried and is not already eligible to receive a larger benefit in a different category.

What does it mean to be currently or fully insured?

You may be wondering how to know if you meet the eligibility requirement of the insured status.

Fully insured means that your spouse had 40 Social Security credits or 40 quarters of coverage at the time of their death. If they were fully insured, benefits may be paid to the following:

You as the spouse

A divorced spouse

Dependent children or children

Dependent parents

Currently insured means that your spouse had 6 credits during the last 13 quarters prior to their death. If they were currently insured the following people may receive benefits:

You as the spouse; only if you are caring for a dependent child or children

A divorced spouse caring for a dependent child or children

Dependent child or children

Unless you are eligible for a greater benefit based on your own primary insurance, you may receive a monthly benefit based on your spouse’s primary insurance amount.

A surviving eligible spouse can receive 100% of their deceased spouse’s primary insurance amount if they are at normal retirement age (66 years old). You can receive it as early as 60 or 50 if you are disabled. If you are disabled and receive the insurance amount early, the benefit payable will be reduced by 0.475% for each month until you are 66. A surviving spouse caring for a dependent child is eligible to receive a minimum of 75% before normal retirement age.

When may these benefits be reduced?

Survivor benefits may be reduced if they exceed the family maximum benefit. This maximum benefit ranges between 150% to 180% of the worker’s primary insurance amount and typically occurs when wage benefits to children and the spouse are paid out.

Benefits may also be reduced if the survivor’s earned income exceeds the annual earnings exempt amount.

What else should I consider?

You may be eligible for other benefits that would exceed what you receive from Social Security. Additional options arise if your spouse was a federal employee, a member of the military, or had a qualified benefit plan like a 401(k) or IRA that you were the beneficiary of.

While this can all be very overwhelming, we recommend speaking to a professional who can help such as your financial advisor or your spouse’s financial advisor. If you would like a second opinion or do not have a financial advisor, call (716) 568-8568 to make an appointment with us. For more information check out the widow's section of our website here:

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