Social Security Widow(er) Benefits

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

Reviewed by Subject Matter Experts

Updated on February 22, 2024

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What Are Social Security Widow(er) Benefits?

Social Security widow(er) benefits are benefits paid by the Social Security Administration (SSA) to the surviving spouse of a deceased worker. These benefits are designed to provide financial support to the surviving spouse and their dependents after the loss of the primary earner.

Widow(er) benefits can be particularly important for individuals who relied on their spouse's income during their lifetime.

By providing a source of ongoing income, these benefits can help the surviving spouse maintain their standard of living and cover expenses such as housing, healthcare, and other basic needs.

Understanding these benefits and the application process can be crucial in easing the financial burden during a challenging time.

Eligibility for Widow(er) Benefits

Age Requirements

To qualify for widow(er) benefits, a surviving spouse must be at least 60 years old, or 50 if disabled. Full retirement age varies depending on the year of birth but typically ranges from 65 to 67 years old.

Relationship to Deceased

The surviving spouse must have been married to the deceased for at least nine months prior to their death.

Exceptions to this requirement include cases where the death was accidental or due to military service. Remarriage after age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) does not affect eligibility for widow(er) benefits.

Work History of Deceased

The deceased spouse must have earned enough Social Security credits and have a fully insured status, typically achieved by working and paying Social Security taxes for at least 10 years.

Eligibility for Widow(er) Benefits

Social Security Widow(er) Benefit Amounts


Widow(er) benefits are calculated as a percentage of the deceased's primary insurance amount (PIA). Factors affecting benefit amounts include the age at which the surviving spouse claims benefits and the deceased's earnings history.

Impact of Early Retirement on Benefits

Claiming benefits before reaching full retirement age results in reduced benefits. The reduction varies depending on the number of months before full retirement age the benefits are claimed. Disabled widow(er)s may be eligible for benefits at age 50 without the reduction in benefits.

Maximum Family Benefit

There is a limit on the total benefits that can be paid to a family based on the deceased's earnings record. If the total benefits exceed the maximum, each family member's benefit will be proportionally reduced.

Additional Social Security Widow(er) Benefit Scenarios

Surviving Divorced Spouses

Eligible surviving divorced spouses may receive widow(er) benefits if they were married to the deceased for at least 10 years and have not remarried before age 60 (or age 50 if disabled).

Surviving Children

Surviving children may also be eligible for benefits if they are under the age of 18, or under 19 and still in high school, or disabled before age 22.

Lump-Sum Death Payment

A one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 may be payable to the surviving spouse or children who meet certain eligibility requirements.

Application Process for Social Security Widow(er) Benefits

Required Documentation

Before beginning the application process, it is essential to gather the necessary documentation to support the claim. Some of the required documents include:

  1. Proof of relationship to the deceased: This may include a marriage certificate or divorce decree (if applicable).

  2. Death certificate: A certified copy of the deceased's death certificate is required to verify the date of death.

  3. Social Security numbers: The Social Security numbers of the deceased, the surviving spouse, and any dependent children are necessary for the application.

  4. Birth certificates: The surviving spouse and any dependent children will need to provide their birth certificates as evidence of age and citizenship.

  5. W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns: These documents help establish the deceased's earnings history and confirm their Social Security coverage.

  6. Bank account information: To receive benefits via direct deposit, the surviving spouse will need to provide their bank account information, including the account number and routing number.

Online Application

Applying for widow(er) benefits online is a convenient option that can be done from the comfort of one's home. To apply online, follow these steps:

  1. Visit the Social Security Administration website at

  2. Create a "my Social Security" account if you do not already have one. This account will allow you to access your personal Social Security information and complete the application process.

  3. Log in to your account and select the option to apply for survivor benefits.

  4. Complete the online application form by providing the necessary personal information and uploading the required documentation.

  5. Review and submit the application. The SSA will typically provide a confirmation number, which can be used to track the status of the application.

  6. Await the SSA's decision. Approval timeframes may vary but typically range from several weeks to a few months.

In-Person or Phone Applications

For those who prefer not to apply online, the SSA also accepts applications for widow(er) benefits in person or over the phone. To schedule an appointment:

  1. Locate the nearest Social Security office using the SSA's online office locator tool.

  2. Call the Social Security office or the SSA's national toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) to schedule an appointment. TTY users can call 1-800-325-0778.

  3. Prepare the necessary documentation and information for the appointment, whether in person or over the phone.

  4. Complete the application with the assistance of a Social Security representative during the scheduled appointment.

Tax Implications of Social Security Widow(er) Benefits

Federal Taxes on Widow(er) Benefits

The federal tax treatment of widow(er) benefits is similar to that of regular Social Security benefits. A portion of the benefits may be taxable, depending on the beneficiary's total income.

To determine if benefits are taxable, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) uses a calculation that includes the beneficiary's adjusted gross income, tax-exempt interest, and one-half of their Social Security benefits.

If the sum of these amounts, known as the "combined income," exceeds certain thresholds, a portion of the widow(er) benefits may be subject to federal income tax. The thresholds for tax year 2023 are as follows:

  • Single, head of household, qualifying widow(er) with a dependent child, or married filing separately and lived apart from spouse for the entire year: $32,000 to $44,000, up to 50% of benefits may be taxable; over $44,000, up to 85% of benefits may be taxable.

  • Married filing jointly: $32,000 to $44,000, up to 50% of benefits may be taxable; over $44,000, up to 85% of benefits may be taxable.

  • Married filing separately and lived with spouse at any time during the year: up to 85% of benefits may be taxable, regardless of combined income.

It is important to note that these thresholds and tax rates may change in the future due to adjustments in tax laws.

State Taxes on Widow(er) Benefits

The tax treatment of Social Security widow(er) benefits varies from state to state. While some states do not tax Social Security benefits at all, others may partially or fully tax these benefits, depending on the state's specific tax regulations.

It is crucial for beneficiaries to research their state's tax laws or consult with a tax professional to determine their state tax obligations related to widow(er) benefits.

Tax Planning and Withholding

Beneficiaries who anticipate owing taxes on their widow(er) benefits may want to consider adjusting their tax withholding or making estimated tax payments throughout the year.

The Social Security Administration allows beneficiaries to request voluntary tax withholding from their benefits by submitting Form W-4V to the SSA.

Resources and Support for Social Security Widow(er) Benefits

Social Security Administration

The official SSA website provides comprehensive information about widow(er) benefits, while their contact information allows for direct communication with representatives for further assistance.

Local Social Security Offices

Local Social Security offices can be located using online locator tools. These offices provide in-person services, such as application assistance and answering questions about benefits.

Community Resources and Support Groups

Various community resources and support groups are available to assist individuals navigating the process of claiming widow(er) benefits. Grief counseling and financial planning assistance can be invaluable during this challenging time.


Understanding Social Security widow(er) benefits is crucial for surviving spouses to access the financial support they deserve. It is important to carefully consider factors such as eligibility, benefit amounts, and application procedures in order to navigate this process effectively.

Being informed about the various scenarios and requirements can help ensure a smoother experience while dealing with an already challenging time in one's life.

Furthermore, it is essential to take advantage of available resources and support systems. The Social Security Administration, local offices, and community resources can provide valuable guidance and assistance throughout the process.

By engaging with these resources and understanding the intricacies of widow(er) benefits, surviving spouses can alleviate some of the financial burdens and uncertainties during this difficult period.

Social Security Widow(er) Benefits FAQs

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website or view his author profiles on Amazon, Nasdaq and Forbes.

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