Understanding Social Security Widow Benefits can sometimes be a daunting task. Here I will explain Widow Benefits as plainly as I can to help you with the process.
As more Americans are living longer they are looking forward to their retirement years and the majority of them will depend partially or wholly on Social Security.
With married couples, there’s often concern over what benefits will be available to a surviving spouse after the other one passes away.
This is particularly true when the surviving spouse didn’t work or contribute to the social security system.
I am providing a guide to understanding what the rules are for different scenarios in this post.
For the average couple, understanding Social Security and the available benefits can be daunting.
The first question that comes to mind is if one spouse never worked outside the home, are they eligible for any type of benefits?
After that question, the next that comes up is typically what happens when the spouse that worked and contributed to Social Security passes away.
Generally speaking, even if a spouse never worked outside the home but the other did and contributed enough to get benefits then so will the one that didn’t work.
Provided that they wait until they’re eligible for full benefits, the one that worked will get 100% of their benefits and their spouse will typically get 50%.
This means if one spouse is receiving $1,000 then the other spouse will receive $500.
Sally, although never worked, at age 67, she is eligible to collect Social Security as well, but she will only get half of what Tom is getting at $500.
Sally will no longer be collecting $500 a month as she will start collecting $1000 a month. The same amount Tom was getting while he was alive.
If Tom , while still alive was still working and paying into the Social Security system, then Sally’s benefits will be recalculated after he dies and she may get an increase on what Tom was getting. More than the $1,000.
Widower social security benefits
If the working spouse passes away then the remaining spouse will stop receiving the $500 and they will get a survivor’s benefit that is usually equal to the full amount that the working spouse was getting.
This would mean that they would begin getting the $1,000 a month. These benefits can vary if one or both are under the full retirement age.
If the working spouse was continuing to work and paying into the social security system the amount that they receive could be recalculated based on the additional amount paid in.
This might mean that the monthly amount increases. If for example, the earnings were to surpass previous years then this can often result in increased benefits.
What If The Surviving Spouse Is Still Working?
Widows social security benefits.
If a widow is still working but over the age that makes them eligible for full Social Security payment then they will get the full survivors amount.
If, however, they are under that age then they will get a reduced amount.
This could mean a reduction by as much as a dollar for every $2 that you would have received from any amount earned over a certain amount per year.
When you are under the age to collect full benefits from Social Security the amount that you earn can also impact how much you’re eligible to receive.
Some feel that it is like having a tax on their earnings.
The good news is that if some of your benefits are withheld because of the amount that you are earning then what you receive once you reach full retirement age will be increased.
For those that live until they are in their 80s, it will mean that they will usually fully recoup the amount that was previously withheld from them.
How Exactly Does Work Affect Your Benefits?
Social security benefits for widower
There are those that mistakenly believe that they will be ineligible to receive benefits as long as they’re working.
This simply isn’t the case.
There are many people who continue to work and receive their benefits.
The main time where it can impact the benefits you receive is if you choose to take Social Security before you reach the age of full retirement.
In that case, then you will have a reduction in what you receive.
The good news is that the benefits are not actually lost.
They will increase as soon as you reach the age of full retirement.
The main exception to this would be surviving spouses and children who have benefits withheld because of work.
Once the age of full retirement is reached then the previously withheld benefits will not be reimbursed.
How Much Income Can You Earn And Still Be Eligible For Benefits?
A person of full retirement age is able to work and earn as much as they want to without any restrictions and they are still able to get full benefits from Social Security.
The only time that it impacts the amount of the benefit they are eligible for is when they choose to collect benefits before their full retirement age.
What that age depends on when they were born.
If you are earning over the limit of $17,640 and you are under the full retirement age then for every $2 above that amount that you earn you will deduct a dollar from the total benefit you would receive.
To better help you understand what that works out to I will give an example.
If you are 62 years old this year and you start to receive Social Security benefits and you earn $22,600, then you have earned $4,960 over the limit and will need to take $1 off the benefits you receive for every $2 over the limit that you earn.
This would calculate to be $2,480 and that would be deducted out of the annual amount that you were scheduled to receive in Social Security benefits.
This means that if you are eligible to get $600 then that would be a total of $7,200 a year.
The $2,480 would be withheld and afterward, you would get payments for the remainder of the year.
This would result in your monthly payments being held for the first 5 months of the year to accommodate the amount to be withheld and then you would receive your normal benefits for the remainder of the year.
This would mean that an extra $520 had been withheld from you during this year.
That would mean that the next year that amount would then be paid to you at the beginning of that year.
What Type Of Income Actually Impacts Social Security Benefits?
The thing to remember for a widow wanting to know how income impacts the benefits they receive is to understand that it is basically the same for them as it would be for the earner.
Not all income has an effect on reducing benefits and any income only affects the benefits that will be received when the receiver is not yet of full retirement age.
If you work for another person or company and you receive a regular wage then it will count towards your earning limits.
If you own a business or you are self-employed then only your net earnings count.
This means what you actually profit or get paid from your company or self-employment.
If you have investments such as an annuity, stocks, and bonds, or other such investments, then those do not count against your annual earnings and will not impact your benefits.
As well, if you get interests on money, if you have a pension, or you receive any type of capital gains, those also will not count towards annual earnings and therefore will not impact your benefits.
If you work for a company and you contribute a portion of your income toward a pension or retirement plan then that amount will also not count toward your annual earnings.
It’s also important to understand that any income being earned from another person or company is counted when it is earned rather than when it is paid.
As an example, if you worked the last week of December and was consequently paid the following month which would be the next year then that income would still count for the previous year because that’s when it was earned even though it wasn’t when it was paid.
Additional examples could be earned bonuses, vacation pay, and even sick leave.
These things would have been earned in the previous year but they may be paid in the following one.
If that is the case then that is counted on the year that it was earned rather than when it was paid out.
Interestingly, if you are self-employed then the income is counted based on when you’re paid rather than when it was earned.
Because of this, it means that you might have done some work and earned the money in the previous year but not paid until the following. In that case, it would be counted when it was actually received.
There is an exception to this rule.
As a self-employed person, if you get paid for something earned in a previous year on the first year of becoming eligible to receive Social Security benefits but what you were paid was earned prior to starting to get those benefits, then it wouldn’t be counted.
That is the special exception and it is only for self-employed on the first year of receiving benefits.
After that, it would revert to counting when paid rather than when earned if self-employed.
The Special Rule allows someone to go ahead and retire during the year that they are going to first start receiving benefits.
They can do this without any penalty and get their full benefits regardless of whether or not they earned more than the allotted amount.
This works equally for a surviving widow as it would for the main beneficiary.
This means that if a widow is earning $25,000 a year and their spouse passes away and they decide to start receiving survivor benefits and they retire in the fall of that year and just take on a part-time job they would get the full benefits they are eligible for even though they earned over the maximum amount for that year.
Otherwise, the amount they earned over the $17,640 would be subtracted from their benefits as described above.
If Your Income Changes Do You Need To Report Those Changes?
When a surviving widow begins receiving survivor benefits, before they’re eligible for full benefits then the amount that will be paid to them is based on the income that they report.
This means that if you have indicated that your projected earnings will be a particular amount per year and that amount changes then you need to report those changes as quickly as possible.
If the changes mean that you’ll be earning more then it could ultimately affect how much you will be getting if you are under the age of full retirement.
Will A Surviving Widow’s Benefits Increase Later If The Amount Being Withheld Is Because Of Current Earnings?
If a surviving widow elects to start receiving survivor benefits before they are eligible for full retirement and their income results in a reduction of benefits then it will be increased as soon as they reach the age of full retirement.
Once you reach the age of full retirement then they will add in an appropriate amount over your full retirement benefits that would then pay you for the withheld amount.
This is a very common event that happens with a surviving spouse.
Why You And Your Spouse Should Plan For The Future Now
If one spouse is the primary breadwinner then it’s important that the couple start planning for the future to make sure that you have both done all you can to prepare.
Social Security is a major component to most families retirement plan. The primary earner and the family can look for opportunities to increase the benefits they will be eligible for when they retire.
Most importantly is that you make sure that you have earned the minimum requirements to make a surviving spouse eligible to receive benefits.
Currently, someone has to earn $1,360 worth of wages or income from self-employment for one credit.
They need to earn 4 credits a year to have that year count towards their benefits. The number of credits needed is dependent on your age at the time of death but the maximum needed are 40 credits.
There are some exceptions such as if a person dies at a younger age then their requirements are fewer.
If a spouse passes away at an early age and they have children then both the children and the spouse who is caring for them will be able to collect Social Security benefits even if the deceased failed to earn enough credits.
Even if the deceased has as little as six credits which takes about a year and a half within the previous three years before death, then the family will be eligible.
It’s also important to be aware of the fact that social security benefits are calculated based on the best years which means that if the working spouse were to have a period of time where they did exceptionally well it could mean that the benefits are greater.
Survivor Benefits Paid Out By Social Security Can Keep A Surviving Widow Above Poverty
Because so many American families are dependent on Social Security it can mean the difference between being impoverished or not.
Millions of widows and widowers are receiving benefits from Social Security based on the earnings record of the deceased spouse.
Those benefits are the only thing that is keeping some of those surviving spouses and families afloat.
A widow can start to receive benefits as early as age 60.
If the spouse qualifies to receive benefits based on their own earnings they’re able to make the switch if it makes sense to do so.
If the surviving spouse is disabled they may be eligible to start getting benefits as young as 50 years old.
It is dependent on whether or not the surviving spouse was disabled before or within 7 years of the death of the spouse.
If the surviving widow is the caretaker of children of the deceased and they have not remarried then they can be eligible to receive benefits regardless of their age.
This is provided that the child or children are under the age of 16 or if they are disabled.
If the surviving spouse remarries after they are age 60 then they will still be eligible to get survivors benefits.
Getting Survivor Benefits From A Spouse You Divorced
If you were married for 10 years or more to someone and they passed away, then you could be eligible for survivor benefits even though you are divorced.
This is true even if they have remarried and their current spouse is also eligible. In that case, both the current spouse and the divorced spouse could be eligible to receive survivor benefits. If the divorced spouse were awarded survivor benefits it would not affect the current spouse in any way.
They would still be eligible to get their benefits.
If the divorced spouse is caring for the deceased spouse’s child who is under the age of 16 then even though they are divorced and even if the marriage was less than 10 years, they may still be eligible to receive survivor benefits.
The child would need to be the caretakers natural or adopted child.
If so, then they can get survivor benefits.
How Much Do Survivors Actually Get?
If you are a widow or a divorced spouse of someone that is now deceased and you were married for 10 years or more or you have a natural or adopted child of the deceased that you are caring for, then you are eligible to receive survivor benefits.
The amount or percentage of benefits is dependent on a few factors.
If you are the widow or widower and you are eligible for full retirement then you would get 100% of the allowable benefits.
If you have an underage child that you’re caring for or one that is disabled then you could be eligible for 75% of the benefits.
Depending on what age you are, if you are at least 60 years old but less than full retirement age then dependent on your specific age, you’d be eligible for between 71 and a half up to 99% of the full benefits.
If a widow or widower is disabled and they are aged 50 up to 59 then they can receive 71 and a half percent of the benefits.
Even in the case where it is a spouse who was divorced but married 10 years or more and has survived the deceased, they would be eligible for benefits under the same circumstances as above.
Even if the deceased spouse has a current spouse, this would not affect that surviving widow in any way.
Both widows or widowers would be eligible for survivor benefits provided that the divorced widow or widower had been married 10 years or more or has an underage child that belongs to the deceased.
Are There Any Maximum Benefit Amounts That A Family Can Receive?
There are some limits to the total amount that any family member is eligible to receive on a monthly basis.
These limits are dependent on some variables but in general, they range between 150% up to 180% of the total eligible benefits.
If the total amount that is to be paid to the family exceeds that amount, then it will be adjusted.
If benefits are being paid to both an existing surviving widow and a divorced one, then the benefits paid to the divorced widow is not counted for benefits paid to the existing widow.
What Happens If A Surviving Widow Is Remarried?
If a surviving widow or widower or a divorced widow or widower remarries before they are 60 years old then they will not be eligible to get survivors benefits.
If on the other hand, they marry after the age of 60 then they will still be fully qualified to receive their benefits.
If the spouse they are currently married to is eligible for benefits then they may want to check to see which benefits are greater.
If their current spouse is eligible to receive greater benefits then they can switch to those benefits and get the greater amount.
Planning for your retirement is very important.
The rules for social security benefits are always subject to change and you will want to keep up-to-date with the latest information.
Making sure that you are eligible to receive your maximum benefits can often be the difference between having enough or not in retirement..
Social Security Widow Benefits Summary
To make things clear, this is not written by me, Blossoming Widow. I hired a professional to do all the research for you.
After my husband died, I wish this guide was available for me, and to be honest, I never even bothered sending in for my survivor benefits.
The rules can often change so be sure to check with your Social Security office if you have any questions.
You can also go online to have your questions answered at https://www.ssa.gov/
I hope this guide was helpful to you.