If My Spouse Dies, Can I Get Her Social Security?

Senior couple
Photo by wavebreakmedia / Shutterstock.com

Welcome to the Social Security Q&A. You ask a Social Security question, our expert provides the answer.

You can learn how to ask a question of your own below. And if you would like a personalized report detailing your optimal Social Security claiming strategy, click here. Check it out: It could result in receiving thousands of dollars more in benefits over your lifetime!

Today’s question comes from Edward:

“My wife and I are each collecting Social Security based on our own record. If one spouse passes, will the survivor collect the other’s share besides their own share? And hypothetically, for other readers, what happens if one spouse is collecting on the other spouse’s earnings?”

Getting the larger of the 2 Social Security benefits

Edward: The answer to both of your questions is the same. When one spouse passes, the surviving spouse receives the larger of the two benefits. It does not matter whether both spouses are collecting on their own record or one spouse is collecting benefits based on their partner’s record.

A surviving spouse can collect benefits as early as age 60. But if the widow(er)’s benefits are claimed before full retirement age, the benefits will be reduced. The earlier the widow(er)’s benefits are claimed, the greater the reduction. If the benefits are claimed at full retirement age or later, the surviving spouse receives 100% of the higher benefit.

There are important implications that result from this method of determining survivors benefits. First, when deciding when to claim benefits, the higher-earning spouse should recognize that a decision to delay claiming will affect not only his or her own benefits, but also the surviving spouse’s benefits.

Suppose the higher-earning spouse has medical problems that suggest he or she may not live a long time. The first reaction might be to claim benefits now because this person will only receive these benefits for a short period of time. This might be a big mistake if his or her spouse is in good health, because a decision to delay claiming will increase the survivors benefits that the spouse will receive.

You can get an individualized report that will help you understand how all this might affect your family decisions as to when to claim benefits.

In most instances, a surviving spouse will need only 75% of the money that’s needed when both partners are living. However, Social Security survivors benefits will be reduced to between 50% and 66% of the benefits received before the first spouse passes. This will vary depending on the circumstances.

For example, if both spouses have equal benefits, then the loss of one benefit will reduce the overall benefits by 50%. If benefits before the first spouse passes include a primary benefit and a spousal benefit of one-half the primary benefit, the survivors benefit will be equal to the benefit of the primary beneficiary. This means that the overall benefit will fall by one-third, leaving 66% of the original combined benefits. These figures suggest that a surviving spouse will be financially worse off after the first spouse passes.

Depending on your situation in retirement, it is important to plan for these eventualities.

Got a question you’d like answered?

You can ask a question simply by hitting “reply” to our email newsletter, just as you would with any email in your inbox. If you’re not subscribed, fix that right now by clicking here. It’s free, only takes a few seconds, and will get you valuable information every day!

The questions I’m likeliest to answer are those that will interest other readers. So, it’s better not to ask for super-specific advice that applies only to you.

About me

I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Pennsylvania and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years. Presently I am teaching at Gallaudet University.

In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.

Disclosure: The information you read here is always objective. However, we sometimes receive compensation when you click links within our stories.

Read Next
5 Surveys For Money Sites To Get Paid For Your Opinion
5 Surveys For Money Sites To Get Paid For Your Opinion

Yes, you can earn extra cash by taking online surveys. But some websites are better than others for this. Here are a few of our favorites.

19 Things You Should Never Buy at a Grocery Store
19 Things You Should Never Buy at a Grocery Store

These household necessities are overpriced at the grocery store. Get them cheaper at these places instead.

8 Key Steps to Planning for Retirement as a Couple
8 Key Steps to Planning for Retirement as a Couple

Ready for retirement? Not so fast. You might be surprised at some of the issues that come up for couples when they plan.

3 Ways to Downsize Your Life to Save Money, Time and Stress
3 Ways to Downsize Your Life to Save Money, Time and Stress

Downsizing can cut the bloat in your finances — and give you more free time and less stress.

12 Things Everyone Should Stop Buying This Year
12 Things Everyone Should Stop Buying This Year

These convenient household products come with hidden costs that you might not have considered.

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Most Popular
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older
11 Senior Discounts for Anyone Age 55 or Older

There is no need to wait until you’re 65 to take advantage of so-called “senior” discounts.

20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling
20 Things That Are Actually Worth Stockpiling

You don’t need a year’s supply of toilet paper to survive an outbreak, but consider stocking up on these items.

9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again
9 Things You’ll Never See at Costco Again

The warehouse store offers an enormous selection, but these products aren’t coming back.

Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?
Can a Twice-Divorced Woman Claim Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Understanding survivors benefits rules is the key to getting the most from your benefit.

These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation
These Are the 10 Worst Cars for Depreciation

Two types of vehicles are especially likely to see steep plunges in value.

Do This With Your Mask Before Thanksgiving Dinner
Do This With Your Mask Before Thanksgiving Dinner

Before you sit down at the year’s biggest feast, make sure to properly care for your mask.

Never Buy These 10 Things With Your Credit Card
Never Buy These 10 Things With Your Credit Card

Credit cards offer many conveniences and protections, but sometimes it’s simply smarter to keep the plastic tucked away.

13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now
13 Amazon Purchases That We Are Loving Right Now

These practical products make everyday life a little easier.

10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s
10 Things I Always Buy at Trader Joe’s

From snacks to sweets to side dishes, stock your cart with these time-tested favorites on your next TJ’s run.

19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree
19 High-Paying Jobs You Can Get With a 2-Year Degree

There are easy high-paying majors available in the U.S. — and no bachelor’s degree is required. We’re here to help you find easy degrees that pay well.

8 Surprising Household Items You Can Sell for Fast Cash
8 Surprising Household Items You Can Sell for Fast Cash

Sometimes, the humblest household items are worth the most money.

Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early
Cut These 11 Expenses Now If You Hope to Retire Early

Like the idea of financial independence? Part of the FIRE equation is cutting costs.

5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021
5 Ways Social Security Will Change in 2021

These adjustments will affect both workers and retirees in the new year.

These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020
These Are the 4 Best Medicare Advantage Plans for 2020

Medicare Advantage customers themselves rate these plans highest.

Stop Buying These 19 Things Online
Stop Buying These 19 Things Online

The internet has changed how we shop. But for some things, you’re still better off buying the old-fashioned way.

15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It
15 Products You Need — Even If You Didn’t Know It

Discover some must-have products on Amazon that you didn’t even know you were missing.

7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply
7 Tips for Building an Emergency Food Supply

A pandemic or natural disaster could leave you reliant on your existing emergency food supply. Is your pantry well-prepared for emergencies? Knowing what to stock up on for emergencies can be a difficult task and we’re here to help.

3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free
3 Ways to Get Microsoft Office for Free

With a little ingenuity, you can cut Office costs to zero.

11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco
11 Things Retirees Should Always Buy at Costco

This leader in bulk shopping is a great place to find discounts in the fixed-income years.

View More Articles

View this page without ads

Help us produce more money-saving articles and videos by subscribing to a membership.

Get Started

Add a Comment

Our Policy: We welcome relevant and respectful comments in order to foster healthy and informative discussions. All other comments may be removed. Comments with links are automatically held for moderation.