Bereavement and Social Security: The Facts

Thinking about a spouse’s death is not something anyone likes to do, but it’s an important part of financial planning. If your spouse dies, will you receive any or all of his or her Social Security benefit?

You could – but it depends on your age when your spouse passes away.

Let’s say you and your spouse both are eligible for or receive separate Social Security benefits, and your spouse dies. You can either collect your own benefit or your survivor benefit – but not both at the same time.

You’ll want to choose the greater benefit – and which one that is depends on whether you have reached your full retirement age, as defined by the Social Security Administration, when your spouse died.

If you’ve already reached full retirement age: You’ll be eligible to receive your deceased spouse’s full benefit, assuming your spouse’s benefit is larger than yours.

As an example, let’s say you’re 68 and collect $1,000 a month, and your husband is 70 and collects $2,000 a month. If he dies, you’ll be able to collect his $2,000 a month instead of your $1,000, since you are past your full retirement age.

If you haven’t reached full retirement age: You’ll be eligible to receive a fraction of your deceased spouse’s full benefit, just as you would if you took your own benefit early.

As an example, let’s say you’re at least 60 but have not reached your full retirement age when your spouse dies at age 70.

You could collect between 71% and 99% of your deceased spouse’s benefit, depending on your age.

Try these resources for more information:

•    SSA Publication 05-1007, What You Need to Know When You Get Retirement or Survivors’ Benefits

•    SSA Publication 05-10084, Survivors’ Benefits

•    SSA retirement age calculator. All at

•    Your financial advisor