Social Security Benefits for Widows and Widowers

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2018 by AARP. All rights reserved.

To get a Social Security widow or widower’s (survivor) benefit, you typically must have been married to a covered worker for at least nine months and be 60 years old. Benefits also are provided for disabled widows or widowers who have reached 50. Divorced spouses may qualify for widow’s or widower’s benefits if the marriage lasted ten years and they didn’t remarry before age 60.

The SSA provides for certain exceptions to the requirement that the marriage lasted nine months before the worker died. These include the same exceptions to the one-year length-of-marriage rule for spousal benefits (if the spouse is the biological parent of the worker’s child or if the spouse qualified for different Social Security benefits in the month prior to the month of marriage).

In addition, a widow or widower may qualify for benefits if the worker died before the marriage reached the nine-month mark, if one of the following applies:

  • The breadwinner died in an accident.
  • The breadwinner died in the line of duty as a member of a uniformed service.
  • The breadwinner and widow or widower had been married to each other previously, and their past marriage lasted at least nine months.

You may qualify for benefits as a married spouse and as a widow or widower. This could happen, for example, if you’re eligible for widow’s or widower’s benefits from a deceased former spouse’s earnings record, you remarry after age 60, and your new spouse files for Social Security retirement benefits. You may choose which benefit to take, but you can’t take both.

When you’re given the choice between two benefits, it shouldn’t be hard. The SSA does the calculation for you, and if you’re like most people, you’ll take the larger amount.