Here’s What Happens to Your Social Security When Your Spouse Passes Away

If you’re widowed, it could affect your benefit amount.

Retirement is an exciting milestone in life, and many older adults look forward to this new journey. However, getting older also brings new challenges, such as the potential to outlive a spouse.

A spouse’s passing can affect your retirement in many ways. Your expenses will change, you may choose to downsize to a smaller home, and your tax situation may be different, for example. But it could also affect your Social Security.

While nobody wants to think about their spouse’s passing, it can be helpful to know what to expect when it comes to your benefits. Here’s exactly how a death can affect your monthly payments.

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How to qualify for survivors benefits

If your spouse passes away, you could be entitled to Social Security survivors benefits. While many family members may qualify for these benefits (including parents, children, and divorced spouses), they’re primarily available to widows and widowers.

To qualify, you must be at least 60 years old (or age 50 if you have a disability that began at least seven years before your spouse’s passing). If you’re caring for a child who is under age 16 or disabled, you can file for survivors benefits at any age.

In general, your spouse also needs to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years prior to their passing. In some cases, though, younger workers need fewer years of work for their spouses to qualify for survivors benefits.

How much will you collect?

The average nondisabled widow(er) collects around $1,782 per month in survivors benefits, as of April 2024. The exact amount you could receive, though, depends on your unique situation.

If you’re widowed, you could collect your spouse’s entire benefit amount after they pass. However, this assumes you’re not receiving retirement benefits based on your work history. In that case, you’ll only receive the higher of the two amounts — not both.

For example, say you’re currently receiving $1,500 per month in retirement benefits, and your spouse is collecting $2,000 per month. If your partner passes away, you could receive a total of $2,000 per month from Social Security going forward — not $3,500 per month. If you were earning more than $2,000 per month, you wouldn’t qualify for survivors benefits at all.

Your age will also affect your benefit amount

In order to receive the full amount to which you’re entitled, you’ll need to have reached your full retirement age (FRA) — which is between ages 66 and 67, depending on when you were born. If you’re below your FRA, you may still qualify for survivors benefits, but you’ll receive a reduced amount.

For nondisabled widow(er)s, claiming between the age of 60 and your FRA will reduce your benefit by up to around 30%. Disabled spouses claiming in their 50s will also receive a reduction of up to around 30%, and those caring for a qualifying child may have their benefit reduced by 25%.

Keep in mind that these reductions are generally permanent, too. While you may have no control over when you begin taking survivors benefits, it’s still a good idea to know how your age will affect your benefit amount.

Preparing for a spouse’s passing is never an enjoyable task, but it can help make the transition easier if and when that day arrives. By considering how survivors benefits factor into your retirement plan, you can ensure you’re as prepared as possible going forward.

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