Social Security Benefits for a Surviving Spouse

by Lee Nichols

Widows or widowers are able to receive Social Security benefits if their spouse qualified for benefits. Along with a one-time lump sum, the spouse can begin receiving a monthly benefit as soon as she is old enough. The Administration determines the amount of the monthly benefit based on the survivor's age when he applies and how much the spouse would have earned if she had lived to full retirement age.

One-time Lump Sum Benefit

Surviving spouses, regardless of age, can receive a one-time payment of $255 from the SSA. This payment is not going to compensate for the loss of your spouse's income, especially if you are too young to qualify for further benefits. Life insurance and investment accounts are essential to individuals who do not want to see a reduction in their standard of living after the death of a spouse.

Surviving Spouses with Children

If you have children under 16, or older than 16 and disabled, you can receive 75 percent of your spouse's benefit amount. Your children can also receive benefits if they are unmarried and younger than 18. Full-time students qualify for benefits until they are 19. The SSA typically limits your total household benefit to less than 180 percent of your spouse's benefit amount. While your benefit will not decrease, your children may share the remaining portion.

Monthly Benefits

The surviving spouse can receive 100 percent of the worker's benefit if he waits until full retirement age to request the benefit. If he requests the benefit between the ages of 60 and his full retirement age, he will receive as much as 99 percent or as little as 71 percent of the benefit amount. If the surviving spouse is disabled, he can apply for benefits after he turns 50 years old.

Divorced Spouses and Remarriage

Divorced surviving spouses can receive benefits if they were married to the deceased for at least 10 years. This payment does not affect the amount paid to a surviving spouse or dependents. If the divorced spouse remarries after he reaches age 60 (50 if disabled), he continues to qualify for survivor benefits. If he is younger than 60 when he remarries, he cannot qualify for survivor benefits from his former spouse.


The maximum benefit available to a 66-year-old worker in 2012 is $2,513, according to the SSA. Qualifying for that amount requires making the maximum taxable amount of income every year after turning 21 years old. In 2010, the average benefit was $14,000 per year according to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. If that is not enough for you to live on, it is essential that you begin planning for retirement and the possible loss of your spouse now. Investments and insurance can provide the financial cushion survivors need to maintain their lifestyle.

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