Ask Larry

Can I Collect Benefits Based On My Husband's Social Security?

Hi Larry,
My husband of 30+ years at the time of his death, passed away in 2012 at the age of 57. I was age 49. We had had 4 children together, the youngest being age 19 at the time of his father’s death. My husband was the main breadwinner and I mainly worked raising the four children while working part time odd jobs while I went to school as my first child was born when I was 19 years old. I was told after his death that I would be able to collect on my husband’s social security when he reached retirement age. I understand the laws were changed under the Obama administration and that benefit was taken away. I hope politicians can understand what a hardship it was for me not only losing my husband rather unexpectedly at a young age, but also trying to maintain mortgage payments on my home that I had lived in and raised my family in for 23 years now without my spouse’s income. His disease diagnosis in his early 30’s left him uninsurable. My question is two fold: can I collect social security based upon his income? If so, and that safety net for me is indeed gone, thanks to that 2015 ruling, when might be the best time to apply for social security benefits? He would have been 68 and I am 61.

Hi. I'm sorry for your loss. No Social Security changes occurred during the Obama Administration that would affect your filing options with regard to survivor benefits. Also, your husband's retirement age has no bearing on when you could start collecting widow's benefits, so you were apparently given some misinformation.

The facts are that assuming you haven't remarried, you could have claimed reduced widow's benefits as early as age 60, or even at age 50 if you were disabled. Whether or not you'd want to start drawing your survivor benefits early, though, depends on the following factors: a) whether you're insured for Social Security benefits based on your own earnings, and if so, how your own benefit rate would compare to your survivor rate, and b) whether or not you're working, and if so, how much you're earning. If you claim benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA), there is a limit on how much you can earn and still be paid benefits.

It sounds like your best strategy for claiming benefits would likely be one of the following:
1) File for reduced widow's benefits now or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for reduced retirement benefits on your own record at age 62 or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then file for unreduced widow's benefits at your FRA.

Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher benefit when it reaches its highest potential rate. Our software ( could help sort all of this out for you so that you can determine the best strategy for maximizing your benefits.

Best, Jerry

Mar 27 2023 - 12:03pm
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