Widows and Survivor Spousal Benefits: What You Need to Know.

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Widows and Survivor Spousal Benefits: What You Need to Know.

When someone passes, their Social Security benefits may become available to their current or former spouse. Here are some important things to keep in mind if you are going through the dreaded loss of a loved one.

Nothing can ever truly prepare you for the loss of a spouse. In the midst of grieving and making arrangements, money will probably be the last thing on your mind. However, understanding how spousal benefits work may allow you to handle financial matters with a little more ease.

Here’s some key factors to help you understand it all, so you can get back to the healing process.

Eligibility for a Spousal Benefit

The Social Security for widow’s rules are fairly simple, although there are some exceptions for disabilities. The basic qualifying guidelines include:

  • You must be at least 60 years old
  • You should be the widow or widower of a fully insured worker
  • You must have been married at least 9 months
  • You must not be entitled to an equal or higher Social Security retirement benefit based on your own work

A widow’s benefits are part of the Social Security retirement fund that your husband or wife paid into while they were working. That way, if they passed away, you wouldn’t be left without income.

What You’ll Need to Apply

If you’re wondering how to get Social Security widow’s benefits, you’ll need to apply by phone or at your local office after your spouse’s passing. If you have any questions, you can always reach out directly to the Social Security Administration here. (Note, due to the complexity of individual cases, you cannot apply online). Be sure to notify the SSA of your spouse’s death as soon as possible.

When you have an application appointment with the SSA, be sure to bring the following documents that apply to your specific circumstances:

  • Proof of death
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Proof of disability
  • Certain SSA forms
  • W-2s and tax forms
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Child’s birth certificate
  • Proof of adoption

How much to expect

There are several factors to consider here such as the age of your spouse when they died and when you start to collect your widow’s benefits. You can check your Social Security statement at any time to see what your Social Security spousal death benefits might be. If you’ve created an online account, you can log in and view your statement. If you haven’t, Social Security will mail you a statement 3 months before your birthday if you’re 60 or older. The following examples by Capital One reflect the amount of benefits you could receive if you waited until full retirement age:

  • If your spouse already started collecting their benefits before they passed, but were not at their full retirement age, then you will receive the greater of 82.5% of their primary insurance amount or the amount they were receiving at the time of their death.
  • If your spouse had already started collecting their benefits and had reached full retirement age, then you can receive the same benefit amount they were getting when they passed.
  • If your spouse didn’t begin collecting their benefits before they passed, you are entitled to the same payments they would have received after reaching their full retirement age.
  • If you start to draw on your widow’s benefits before full retirement age, you’ll get a decreased percentage.

Regardless of when someone passes away, you typically can’t receive SSA widow’s benefits until age 60. But if you have a disability or share a child under 16 with your spouse, you may be eligible to collect your benefits earlier.

Get Help with Your Survivor’s Benefits

Losing a spouse is one of the hardest things to go through. Among the many stresses of losing a loved one, lost wages can make life even more challenging. Hopefully, understanding widow’s benefits can help ease your mind as you work through the process. 

If you find yourself nearing retirement as a widow/widower, contact the retirement income experts at CKS Summit Group here. We have extensive experience in providing the perspective you need to help you build and maintain a retirement strategy that works best for you.