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Social Security Mailbox

How Do Widows' Benefits Work?

A wife who hasn't worked outside the home wants to know

Q. I'm 59 and have never worked outside the home. My husband is collecting Social Security retirement benefits. What would happen to them if he should die before me?

A. Depending on your age at the time, you could be eligible for a widow's benefit.

See also: Social Security survivor benefits.

Indeed, millions of widows and widowers receive monthly survivor checks, which are based on the work records of their deceased spouses. The children of deceased workers also may be eligible for survivor benefits.

Here are some Social Security rules you should be aware of:

  •  Widows and widowers who have reached full retirement age, currently 66, generally receive 100 percent of the payments their spouses were getting.
  •  Survivors can take reduced benefits as early as 60 — or at 50 if disabled. However, benefits that are begun early will be permanently reduced. For example, a survivor who would receive a $1,000 monthly benefit at the full retirement age of 66, would receive only $715 a month if the benefit were taken at age 60 — a 28.5 percent reduction.
  •  Survivors can receive benefits at any age if they care for a child of the deceased who is under 16 or disabled. The caretaker receives 75 percent of the deceased worker's benefit.
  •  Benefits can be paid to unmarried children under 18, or up to 19 if they are attending high school full time. The child receives 75 percent of the deceased worker's amount.
  •  Under certain circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children can receive benefits. Payments can go to children at any age if they were disabled before 22 and remain disabled.

For more information, see: "Widows, Widowers and Other Survivors."

Also of interest: Don't forget spouse protection in retirement plans. >>

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.

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