What to Know about a Spouse’s Social Security Survivor Benefit


Senior couples often count on income from their Social Security benefits to help finance retirement. This is especially true for those who didn’t have a dual-income household—a common situation among older adults. For the baby boom generation, even if the wife worked outside the home, the family typically relied on the husband’s higher wages

When the primary wage earner passes away, the surviving partner can feel anxious about how their Social Security benefits will change. They may also be left with many questions about how the Social Security spousal benefit works.

Here’s what retirees and their families should know.

Spousal Benefits and Social Security

1.  Spousal benefits:

A spouse who didn’t work, or didn’t work enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, typically receives monthly spousal benefits if their partner is retired or disabled. These are in addition to the benefits their wage-earning partner collects. If the working partner passes away first, the surviving spouse will transition from spousal benefits to survivor benefits.

2.  Survivor benefits:

Social Security survivor benefits are paid monthly after the wage earner has died. A widow or widower who is at least 62 years old will likely be eligible to receive them. It’s important to know, however, that a surviving spouse isn’t the only family member who may qualify. Others who may be eligible for survivor benefits are:

  • A widow or widower caring for a child of the deceased wage earner, if the child is under 16 years old
  • The deceased’s unmarried children who are under 18 years old (older if they have a disability)

3.  Payment amounts:

If the surviving spouse qualifies for their own retirement benefits and for spousal benefits, Social Security will pay the survivor’s own benefit first. If the amount of the spouse’s survivor benefit is higher than their own retirement benefits, Social Security will award a combination of benefits equal to the higher amount.

4.  Maximum family benefit:

There is a cap on how much families can receive if the primary wage earner passes away. It is based on the wage earner’s benefit amount and the number of people in the family who qualify. Social Security says that amount is generally between 150% and 180% of the deceased’s full retirement benefit.

While there are a few exceptions, these are the general guidelines and rules regarding survivor benefits.

Applying for Survivor Benefits

There are three ways to apply for Social Security benefits:


Financing a Senior Living Community

If you are a surviving spouse considering making a move to a senior living community, finances may be a leading concern. We know Social Security is one resource older adults count on to finance a move to a senior housing community. Senior Housing Payment Options can help you explore others.

We also encourage you to call one of our experienced senior care advisors at 888-514-6461. Their advice is always free for families!

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