When Can I Qualify For Widow's Benefits?

Jan 16 2018 - 10:24am

I’m inquiring about Survivors or Widows Benefits. My husband died suddenly in October of 2016 at age 58. We were married for 35 Years with no children. I have no previous marriages & have not remarried. He worked full time since the age of 18 & the last 10+ Years was a 6 figure income. He did not apply for any benefits prior to his death. I also have worked mostly full time since age 18 at a much lower income. I have recently learned that I am entitled to file for Survivors Benefit. I am 57 & will be 58 in June of this year. I have read online age qualification is 60 unless you were disabled at the time of death. When can I qualify for this program? How will this affect my retirement benefits? Full retirement benefits (100%) for me begins at 66 Years & 8 months according to online research. Can you clarify if & when I am eligible for survivors benefits & when I should apply for retirement benefits on either my spouse or myself’s income. What is the best strategy to maximize my social security income? I need some sound advice on social security benefits for me. Thank you for your assistance.


I'm sorry for your loss.

Assuming that you aren't disabled, the earliest that you could qualify for widow's benefits is at age 60. You don't necessarily have to be disabled at the time of your husband's death in order to qualify for disabled widow's benefits, so you could still qualify for disabled widow's benefits if you become disabled before age 60. However, your widow's benefit rate will be reduced if you start drawing before full retirement age (FRA). The reduction percentage if you start drawing at or before age 60 is 28.5%.

Drawing widow's would not affect your own retirement benefit rate, but you couldn't draw more than one full benefit at a time. If you file for both benefits, you could only be paid the higher of the 2 benefit rates. Therefore, if you start out drawing reduced widow's benefits at age 60, there would likely be no advantage in filing for your own benefits later unless your own retirement benefit rate would be higher than your widow's rate.

Your best strategy is almost certainly one of the following:
1) File for widow's benefits at age 60 or as soon as your earnings will permit benefits to be paid, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for retirement benefits on your own record at age 62 or as soon as your earnings will permit benefits to be paid, then file for unreduced widow's benefits at your full retirement age.

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. The maximization software available on this website can help you determine which of the above strategies is best in your case.

Best, Jerry