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Social Security - Survivor (Widow and Widower) Benefits Example


The Husband turned 66 (FRA) in March 2017 and plans to begin receiving his social security retirement benefit of $2,400 monthly. His Wife, who turns 62 in a couple of weeks, plans to begin receiving early retirement benefits. Her Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) is $1,600 per month (the amount she will receive if she waits until her Full Retirement Age (FRA). She no longer works.


Q: Is the Wife eligible to receive survivor benefits if Husband predeceases her?

To be eligible for a Social Security survivor's benefit, a widow or widower must 1) be at least 60 years old and 2) have been married to the deceased worker at the time of his or her death — and for at least nine months before that. But there are exceptions to the nine-month-minimum requirement, such as accidental death cases or whether it occurred in the line of duty as an actively serving member of a uniformed service. 

Q: How much is the Wife eligible to receive? 

While spousal benefits are worth a maximum of 50% of their spouse's Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), survivor benefits are worth 100% of what the deceased worker collected or was entitled to collect at the time of death, provided the survivor collects the benefits at full retirement age or later. Survivor benefits can be received as early as age 60, but the reduction in amount from not waiting until FRA can be as much as 28.50% (4.07% a year). 


Q: If the Wife files early for her retirement benefits and later Husband dies, will she be able to receive Husband's survivor benefit if it increases her monthly payment?

Yes. A surviving spouse can choose one benefit first and switch to the other benefit later if it results in a larger monthly amount. If Wife decides to file early at 62, she will receive $1,200 (75% of $1,600, her PIA). Her monthly benefits will remain $1,200 (not including the cost of living adjustments) unless her eligible survivor benefit is larger. If Husband predeceases Wife, her benefit will increase from $1,200 to $2,400 – a 100% increase!


Q: If Husband decides to take advantage of delayed retirement credits and waits until Age 70, will Wife's options be impacted?

Since Spouses can only receive spousal benefits if the other spouse is receiving benefits (except for Divorced spouses), the Wife would only be able to file spousal benefits once Husband reaches age 70. But on the positive side, her survivor benefit is based on the amount the Husband is eligible for. Therefore, waiting until 70 would increase Husband's income by 8% a year from age 66 to age 70 – his benefit and, therefore Wife's potential survivor benefit is increased from $2,400 per month to $3,168 – 32% increase.


Q: Are survivor benefits available to the dependent children of the deceased worker?

Yes. If you are an unmarried child under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) or a worker who dies, you can be eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits. And you can get benefits at any age if you were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.

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