Social Security does not only provide benefits for primary recipients, it also provides benefits for surviving spouses. These benefits are called “widow’s” benefits, although they’re payable to either a surviving husband or a surviving wife. How do they work? Here’s a brief overview:
Generally, the widow’s benefit is equal to the deceased spouse’s Social Security benefit. However, if your spouse has passed away and he or she had a lower Social Security benefit than you, your benefit will not be reduced by virtue of your spouse’s death.
What happens when your spouse dies, and you have not yet reached full retirement age? The amount of your widow’s benefit will depend on the age at which you decide to collect it. The youngest age at which you can opt to collect the benefit (with a few exceptions) is 60. However, if you decide to collect early instead of waiting until your full retirement age, your widow’s benefit will be permanently reduced. What is your full retirement age? It’s between 65 and 67, depending on your year of birth.
If you are disabled or you have a dependent child under the age of 19 – or a child who is 19 and a full-time student – then the age threshold at which you’re permitted to begin collecting widow’s benefits is reduced.
You might be eligible for widow’s benefits even if you’re not technically a widow. If you’re divorced, your were married to your former spouse for ten or more years, and he or she passes away, you are still eligible for widow’s benefits as if you were still married at the time of your former spouse’s death.