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.