Social Security Survivor Benefits: What You Need to Know


Social Security can be frustrating for the recently widowed.

Being widowed is emotionally difficult to say the least. But it can also be financially confusing, especially when it comes to your Social Security benefits. If you’ve been widowed, here’s what you need to know about Social Security survior benefits.

How does my spouse earn Social Security benefits?

The Social Security Administration structures it in the form of “credits.” A worker can earn up to four credits per year, one for every $1,160 in gross income that they earn. You can earn a maximum of forty credits. A worker who has been working full time for ten years will generally have earned all forty credits.

Does my spouse need to have earned all forty credits for me to receive benefits?

No. As a rule, the younger a person is when he or she passed away, the fewer credits will be needed for their survivors to receive benefits.

Will insurance payouts or investment accounts inherited from my spouse impact my Social Security benefits?

No. While Social Security has an “earnings limit,” that limit is based solely on the income you collect from working. Withdrawing funds from an investment account will not affect your Social Security benefits, although there may be tax implications that you should examine carefully before doing so.

I have children who are under the age of eighteen. Do I qualify for survivor’s benefits?

If your children are under the age of eighteen, or were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled, they can qualify for survivor benefits.

Are adopted children considered for benefits?

Yes. Any person’s natural or adopted children can qualify for benefits.

How soon can I begin receiving benefits?

That varies heavily on the situation and whether or not you have children under the age of majority. As a general rule, you may begin receiving benefits at a reduced rate at the age of 60, but if you became disabled before or within seven years of your spouse’s death, you may be eligible to receive benefits beginning at age 50. Your children, however, may receive survivor’s benefits as long as they are under eighteen.


Social Security can help anyone struggling with a death in the family.

My spouse and I divorced, and he or she later passed away. Am I still eligible for benefits?

Yes, provided you were married for ten years or longer. In that particular situation, the Social Security administration treats the divorce as the final event, not the death.

If we’re divorced and my former spouse passes away, will my children be covered under their survivor’s benefits?

Yes. However, they will only be covered up to the age of sixteen. Also, receiving that benefit will impact the benefit of others who may be collecting from that person’s account, so be aware that you may have to deal with a legal challenge or other dispute.

If I remarry, will I lose my benefits?

If you remarry after the age of 60, your survivor’s benefits will not be affected. If you remarry before that, the Social Security Administration will treat your new marriage like a new record.

What should I do to start receiving benefits?

Contact the Social Security Administration in your area. You’ll need to speak with them to begin the process, and so reaching out is a good way to start.

Photo credits: Backdoor Survival, SalFalko

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About Russ Thornton

I help divorcees, widows and other women achieve and maintain their desired lifestyle without fear of running out of money – no matter what happens.

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