What Are My Social Security Benefits as a Widow?

I work with several widows and one of their most pressing concerns is regarding social security benefits.   Due to family responsibilities, many widows have not worked much outside the home and have little or no social security benefits based on their own earnings record.  As a result, widow’s benefits are especially important to them.

Spouse’s Social Security Benefits

As a widow or widower you are entitled to social security benefits based on the earnings record of your spouse.  The amount you will receive is also based on your age. You are entitled to 100% of your spouses benefit at full retirement age or a reduced benefit at 60.  If you are disabled you may begin receiving reduced benefits at 50.  You can receive 75% of the benefit at any age if you are caring for your deceased spouse’s child who is under 16 or is disabled and receives benefits under your spouse’s record.

What if you remarry?

If you remarry before 60 you are not entitled to the survivor benefits as long as you remain married.  If you remarry after 60 you will be entitled to survivor benefits.  You may want to file for wife’s benefits if your new spouse’s benefits are higher than the widow’s benefits.  Sorry, you aren’t entitled to both.

What if you work?

Prior to full retirement your survivor benefits will be decreased by $1 for every $2 dollars earned above the earnings limit.  The limit for 2009 is $14,600.  After full retirement there is no limit on earnings.

What if you have your own earnings record?

You can file for Social Security under your own earnings record or under your deceased spouse’s record – whichever is larger.  However, again you can’t get both.  You can begin receiving widow’s benefits at a reduced rate at age 60 and switch to your own benefit at full retirement at an unreduced rate.

Social Security rules can be complicated and vary depending on your specific circumstances.  I encourage you to contact Social Security to make an appointment with a representative when you are within a year of receiving benefits 1-800-772-1213.  More information is available on the official social security web page.

About the author

Jane M. Young, CFP®, EA, MBA, CDFA

Jane M. Young is a Certified Financial Planner and co-owner of Pinnacle Financial Concepts, Inc. and Divorce Solutions, Inc. She has been a financial planner since 1996. She is also enrolled to practice before the Internal Revenue Service. Prior to becoming a financial planner Jane held several management positions at Digital Equipment Corporation and Quantum Corporation, where she worked for 14 years. Jane holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration from the University of Colorado and an MBA from the University of Colorado. She has also completed the two year Certified Financial Planner Professional Education Program with the College for Financial Planning.

Jane is very active in the community. She is the immediate past president of the Rotary Club of Colorado Springs and a past president of Leadership Pikes Peak. She is a graduate of the Leadership Pikes Peak class of 2004. She is a past president of the Financial Planning Association of Southern Colorado and a past president of the Pikes Peak Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners. Jane is also a member of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs, College of Business, Alumni Leadership Team. Jane is a graduate of the Leadership Program of the Rockies class of 2009 and a graduate the Colorado Springs Leadership Institute class of 2011. She is also a member of the Estate Planning Council and Artemis. Jane was selected as a 2010 Woman of Influence by the Colorado Spring Business Journal.

As a fee-only financial planner Jane is a member of the National Association of Personal Financial Advisors, the Financial Planning Association, the National Association of Tax Professionals and the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors. She has been quoted in several local and national publications including The Wall Street Journal, US News and World Report, Consumer Reports, Investment News, MSN Money, Kiplinger Magazine, Financial Advisor Magazine, Bankrate.com and the Colorado Springs Business Journal. She also works as a volunteer instructor to new advisors with the Alliance of Cambridge Advisors and has worked as an adjunct instructor at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs.

Jane is from St. Louis, but grew up in Colorado Springs. She enjoys skiing, golfing, traveling, hiking, painting and learning to speak French.

2 Comments

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  • I AM 61 1/2 yrs old, my husband is 73 collecting full ss retirement if my husband dies, how much of his payments will i receive ?

  • I am currently receiving SS payments, but I would rather use my deceased spouse’s social security benefits. Is it too late for me to use his benefits until I make 66?

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