Social Security will not combine a late spouse's benefit and your own and pay you both. When you are eligible for two benefits, such as a survivor benefit and a retirement payment, Social Security doesn’t add them together but rather pays you the higher of the two amounts.
If that’s the retirement benefit, then the retirement benefit is all you’ll get. If the survivor benefit is higher, Social Security pays the retirement benefit first and tops it up to match the amount of the survivor benefit.
Whether that survivor benefit exceeds your own Social Security payment will depend on the amount of your late spouse’s benefit and your own age and family situation. You are entitled to:
- 100 percent of the deceased’s benefit if you have reached your full retirement age. (That's 66 and 2 months for survivors born in 1957, 66 and 4 months for those born in 1958 and gradually rising to 67 over the next several years.)
- 71.5 percent to 99 percent if you are between 60 — in most cases, the earliest you can draw survivor benefits — and full retirement age. (If you are disabled, the minimum age is 50.)
- 75 percent if you are caring for a child from the marriage who is under 16 or disabled, regardless of your own age.
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Keep in mind
- If you are already receiving a spousal benefit when your husband or wife dies, Social Security will in most cases convert it automatically to a survivor benefit once the death is reported. Otherwise, you will need to apply for survivor benefits by phone at 800-772-1213 or in person at your local Social Security office.
- Local offices fully reopened in April 2022 after being closed to walk-in traffic for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Social Security recommends calling in advance and scheduling an appointment to avoid long waits.