Ways To Maximize Social Security If You’re Widowed

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If your spouse passes away and you are the surviving spouse of the worker, you can receive your spouse’s Social Security benefits after they pass. An important caveat: your spouse must have worked long enough under Social Security in order to qualify for benefits.

See: Social Security Survivor Benefits — The Most Important Things You Need To Know
Find: How To Maximize Social Security If You’re Divorced

The way this works is through Social Security credits. According to the Social Security Administration, a worker can earn up to four credits each year. In 2022 for example, your spouse can earn one Social Security credit for each $1,510 of wages or self-employment income they earned. Once they’ve earned $6,040, they’ll have earned four credits for the year.

The SSA states that the number of credits needed to provide benefits for survivors depends on the worker’s age when they die. Forty is the minimum number of credits one needs to be eligible for Social Security benefits. This amounts to 10 years of work. The younger a person is however, the fewer credits they must have for family members to receive survivors benefits. 

See: Social Security — What Happens If I Die Before Collecting
Find: What Special Social Security Benefits Do Veterans Receive?

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Survivors can receive benefits if the worker has earned six credits, which equals one and a half years of work, in the three years before their death. 

Once your spouse dies, you will need to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Deaths and applications for survivors’ benefits cannot be done online. If you’d like the funeral home to report the death for you, you may provide them with your spouse’s Social Security number.

Maximizing your own social security benefits as a widow or widower comes down to whether or not you remarry and and what age. If you remarry before the age of 60, you will not be eligible for your deceased spouse’s benefits. If you remarry after the age of 60 though, you will be eligible to claim benefits on that deceased spouse’s record.

Another way to maximize is to wait to claim your own benefits. As a widow or widower you can claim benefits on your deceased spouse as early as 62 – while allowing your own benefit to grow. You can then switch over to your own benefit at a later date, which will result in a larger monthly check.

If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, you can call 1-800-772-1213. You can speak to representatives between 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 

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