# How much does a spouse get of her husband’s Social Security?

When a working spouse dies, the surviving spouse is often entitled to some of the deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits. The exact amount the surviving spouse receives depends on several factors.

## How Social Security Benefits are Calculated

Social Security benefits are based on the worker’s lifetime earnings. The Social Security Administration calculates the worker’s basic benefit, or “primary insurance amount,” based on the 35 highest-earning years of the worker’s career.

To qualify for benefits, the worker must earn a minimum number of “work credits” over their career, up to a maximum of four credits per year. In 2023, a worker earns one credit for each \$1,640 of earnings, up to the maximum of four credits.

The worker’s primary insurance amount equals a percentage of their career-average monthly earnings. In 2023, the percentage varies from 90% for low earners to 15% for high earners. This ensures lower-wage workers get a higher return compared to their contributions.

### Average Earnings Calculation

Specifically, Social Security calculates the primary insurance amount in three steps:

1. Calculate the worker’s indexed monthly earnings, adjusted for changes in wage levels over time.
2. Find the worker’s average indexed monthly earnings by totaling the highest 35 years of indexed earnings and dividing by 35.
3. Apply a formula to the average indexed monthly earnings to get the primary insurance amount.

This ensures inflation doesn’t erode the purchasing power of benefits over time. The worker’s primary insurance amount represents how much they would receive if claiming at full retirement age, between 65-67 depending on their birth year.

## How Much Will the Surviving Spouse Receive?

When a worker dies, the surviving spouse may receive up to 100% of the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount. However, several rules apply:

• The survivor can receive their own Social Security benefit based on their earnings history, or the deceased spouse’s benefit, but not both. They will receive the higher of the two amounts.
• The survivor can claim a reduced benefit as early as age 60. However, the benefit maxes out at 100% of the deceased worker’s amount if claimed at the survivor’s full retirement age.
• Remarriage after age 60 (50 if disabled) will not affect eligibility for survivor benefits.
• A divorced spouse may qualify for survivor benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.

The following sections provide more details on how much the surviving spouse can receive.

### Survivor’s Full Retirement Age

If the surviving spouse claims at their own full retirement age, they will receive 100% of the deceased worker’s primary insurance amount. The following table shows full retirement ages for surviving spouses based on year of birth:

Year of Birth Full Retirement Age
1945 and earlier 65 years
1946-1962 66 years
1963 and later 67 years

For example, if the worker’s primary insurance amount was \$2,000, the surviving spouse would receive the full \$2,000 if claiming at their own full retirement age.

### Reduced Benefits at Age 60

The survivor can claim a reduced benefit as early as age 60. However, the benefit will be reduced based on the number of months claimed before the survivor’s full retirement age.

For example, if the survivor’s full retirement age is 67, claiming at 60 would reduce benefits by around 30%. If the worker’s primary insurance amount was \$2,000, the reduced survivor benefit at age 60 would be \$1,400.

### Maximum Family Benefit

There is also a maximum family benefit that caps total benefits that can be paid to the worker’s survivors. It equals 150-180% of the deceased worker’s primary insurance amount. It can reduce benefits for higher earners but seldom impacts average earners.

## Other Factors Affecting Survivor Benefits

Some other key points can affect the survivor’s benefits:

• The widow(er) can switch to their own benefit later if it is higher than the survivor benefit.
• Survivor benefits do not prevent the spouse from claiming their own Social Security benefit.
• A surviving spouse can claim benefits again if they remarry after 60 (50 if disabled).
• A surviving spouse who is also receiving a government pension may have benefits reduced or eliminated under the government pension offset provision.
• The deceased worker must have earned a minimum number of work credits for the survivor to receive benefits.

### Survivor Benefits for Divorced Spouses

Divorced spouses can also potentially receive survivor benefits. However, the following conditions must be met:

• The marriage lasted 10 years or more.
• The surviving ex-spouse is unmarried or has not remarried before age 60 (50 if disabled).
• The ex-spouse is at least age 60.

The divorced spouse can receive the same survivor benefits as a current spouse. If both the current and ex-spouse qualify for survivor benefits, the current spouse will receive benefits first.

## How to Apply for Survivor Benefits

To receive survivor benefits, the surviving widow(er) will need to contact Social Security and provide the following information:

• Proof of death of the deceased worker, such as a death certificate.
• Their own birth certificate to prove their relationship and age.
• The deceased worker’s Social Security number.
• Their own Social Security number.
• Marriage certificate if applying as a spouse, or divorce decree if applying as a divorced spouse.
• Dependent children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers, if applying for children’s benefits.
• Check or bank account routing numbers for deposit of benefits.

The Social Security Administration recommends applying right away after the spouse dies, even if benefits will be claimed later. The survivor can apply in person at a local Social Security office, by phone, or online.

### When Survivor Benefits Start

Survivor benefits can start as early as the month after the worker’s death. However, benefits will be reduced if claimed before the survivor’s full retirement age. The benefit amount may be retroactive up to 6 months from the application date.

## Other Benefits for Surviving Spouses

In addition to regular Social Security benefits, surviving spouses may qualify for other types of benefits after their spouse dies:

• One-time death benefit: A \$255 lump-sum payment after the worker’s death.
• Widow(er)’s limit provision: Lets the survivor switch to their own higher retirement benefit later, if applicable.
• Disabled widow(er)’s benefits: May qualify for benefits as early as age 50 if they have a disability.

### Dependent Benefits for Children

Dependent children of the deceased worker may also qualify for Social Security benefits. To receive benefits, the dependent child must be:

• Unmarried and younger than age 18 (or 19 if still in high school).
• A full-time student under age 22.
• Disabled before age 22 if the disability meets SSA criteria.

Each dependent child will receive up to 75% of the deceased worker’s primary insurance amount. However, total family benefits are capped. Children’s benefits will be reduced pro rata along with the surviving spouse’s benefits to stay under the family maximum.

## Planning for Survivor Benefits

While no one likes to think about the death of a spouse, planning for survivor benefits can help ensure income continues for the family. Here are some tips:

• Know your full retirement age for survivor benefits, and the impact of claiming early.
• Understand Social Security will coordinate dual benefits and pay the higher amount.
• Compare current and survivor benefits to make the optimal claiming decision.
• Consider insurance or other income sources to supplement survivor benefits if you claim early.
• Contact Social Security right away after a spouse dies to start receiving benefits.
• Work with a financial planner to optimize Social Security decisions for surviving spouses.

### Does Social Security pay a death benefit?

Yes, Social Security pays a one-time death benefit of \$255 after the death of a covered worker. This can help pay immediate costs like funeral expenses.

### Can I receive both my own benefit and a survivor benefit?

No, you can only receive one benefit at a time. If eligible for both, Social Security will pay your own benefit first, then switch you to the survivor benefit if it is higher.

### How much will children receive in survivor benefits?

Dependent children can receive up to 75% of the deceased parent’s primary insurance amount. However, total family benefits are capped at 150-180% of the parent’s PIA.

### Do I have to wait until full retirement age to get widow(er) benefits?

No, you can claim reduced widow(er) benefits as early as age 60. However, benefits will be reduced compared to if you waited until full retirement age.

### Does remarriage prevent eligibility for widow(er) benefits?

If you remarry after age 60, remarriage will not prevent eligibility for widow(er) or divorced widow(er) benefits based on the prior spouse’s record.

## Conclusion

Surviving spouses and children can receive valuable income from Social Security when a working parent dies. While survivor benefits aim to replace lost income, they often replace only a portion of the deceased worker’s benefits.

Planning ahead and making optimal claiming choices for survivor benefits is crucial. Working with a financial advisor can help maximize income for surviving family members.

At a minimum, surviving spouses should contact Social Security right away and evaluate both current and future survivor benefits when determining the ideal claiming age. Consider all available benefits to secure the income you need.