My husband passed away 9/11/2018. I turn 60 on Aug. 6th. I understand I can apply for widows benefits when I turn 60 years old. My questions: Do I have to wait until by birthdate to start paperwork? Am I entitled to his full amount or a percentage? What paperwork exactly do I need to present?
I'm sorry for your loss.
You can file Social Security applications up to 4 months in advance of the month that you want to claim benefits, so you could file now if you want to claim widow's benefits at age 60. However, if you start drawing widow's benefits at age 60, your benefit rate will be reduced to 71.5% of your husband's primary insurance amount (PIA). If you instead waited until your full retirement age (FRA) to start drawing you'd receive your husband's full PIA, unless he received reduced Social Security retirement benefits prior to his death.
You don't mention whether or not you're working, but if you are then your benefits could be subject to full or partial withholding until you reach FRA depending on how much you earn (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking.html). And, if you've earned enough Social Security credits to be eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, then your best strategy would likely be one of the following:
1) File for reduced widow's benefits at age 60 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 full retirement age (FRA). However, if your spouse received reduced retirement benefits prior to his death then it would probably be better to file on his account at some point prior to your FRA.
Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches it's highest potential rate. Our software could sort all of this out for you and help you determine your optimal filing strategy.
When you do apply, you will need to file your application either in person or by phone with a Social Security representative. You can't apply for survivor benefits online. The representative will complete your application based on your answers to the questions on the application. You can make an appointment to apply by calling 800-772-1213. Social Security will likely need to see proof of your marriage, ideally a certified copy of your marriage certificate.