Social Security After the Death of a Spouse

A surviving spouse, or a surviving divorced spouse, may qualify to receive Social Security payments based upon the deceased spouse's work record, as long as the spouse worked long enough to qualify for payments. If the deceased spouse was already receiving Social Security payments, the surviving spouse may elect to take whichever is larger: payments based on his work record or payments based upon the deceased spouse's work record.


You qualify for payments based on your spouse's work record if you were married at the time of death or, if divorced, had been married at least 10 years. You must be a U.S. citizen and have your own Social Security number. If you are are at least 60, you can receive reduced benefits. You must have reached full retirement age to get full benefits. If you are disabled and your disability no more than seven years after your spouse's death, benefits could start at age 50. Also, if you have children under age 16 in the home, you can qualify for survivor's benefits at any age.

Documents To Have With You

The Social Security Administration will require that you show paperwork that documents the death of your spouse and that you are who you say you are. This will include your birth certificate or other proof of U.S. citizenship, marriage certificate and death certificate for your spouse. Bring military discharge papers if you served before 1968. If you will be signing up for direct deposit, bring a blank check from your checking account or other paperwork that has account information about your bank. If you are divorced, bring a copy of your divorce papers.

What You Will Be Asked

Either on the telephone, or at the Social Security office, you will be asked for your name and your Social Security number. You will need to provide your deceased spouse’s name, Social Security number, place of death and dates of birth and death. Additional questions might include whether you or your spouse had ever filed for benefits, including Supplemental Security Income or Medicare, for yourself; whether your spouse filed for benefits for himself; whether you are eligible to receive or expect to receive benefits based upon your own employment. Additionally you will need information on the date of your marriage, your spouse's earnings for the past two years and, if you are within three months of your 65th birthday, whether you are interested in enrolling in Medicare.

Additional Information

Social Security has a death benefit of $255 that is paid to a surviving spouse. but not a former spouse. This is paid by the SSA after receiving official notification of the worker’s death. If you remarry after the age of 60, your survivor benefits will not be affected.

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