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A widowSurviving spouses are not the only ones who can qualify for a widow’s pension under the Social Security Act of 1935. When we dig down into the details, there are others who can receive it besides the widow or widower. Other parties close to the deceased may also have a claim. There are specific rules and regulations, according to the Social Security Administration, regarding the payment of a widow’s pension. Here is a breakdown of who can receive a widow’s pension and how the payment amounts are calculated. Consider working with a financial advisor to ensure that your retirement planning is as effective as it can be.

What Is a Widow’s Pension?

A widow’s pension is a form of income distributed to the deceased person’s family, who are qualifying beneficiaries, after their death. It is given out by the Social Security Administration. The pension is funded by the taxpayers when they pay their payroll taxes. A portion of each payment automatically funds widow’s pensions.

The goal of the widow’s pensions is to ease the difficulty that suddenly living on one income might bring. In some cases, the family will be a one-wager-earner family and without the widow’s pension, the family would be thrown into poverty. If the spouse is retired, the income received from Social Security will be yet another income stream that will help support the family.

Don’t confuse the widow’s pension with the small death benefit sent to the surviving spouse or family for everyone who has worked under the Social Security system. The death benefit is a one-time payment. The widow’s pension is paid monthly.

Who Can Receive a Widow’s Pension?

Social Security application

You can receive a widow’s pension if you are a widow or widower age 60 or older. If you are disabled, that drops down to age 50. If you choose to receive the pension at age 60, it will be reduced because that is not the full retirement age. If you wait until your full retirement age, then you will receive the entire pension. If you are disabled, you can receive full benefits if your disability started either seven years or more before the death or within a seven-year period of the death. Remarriage will not affect your widow’s pension in either case.

You can receive a widow’s pension if you are the divorced spouse of a person who dies as long as you were married 10 or more years. Like in the previous case, your pension will not be affected if you remarry. You must be age 60 or age 50 if you are disabled. Your pension will be reduced if you choose to receive it before your full retirement date. If you are in a domestic partnership, you are not eligible to receive a widow’s pension even if domestic partnerships are legal in your state.

If you are a surviving widow or widower, or a surviving divorced widow, and you are taking care of the minor child of the person who died, you can receive a full pension. That child must be disabled and under age 16. In this case, if you are divorced, you don’t have to meet the rule concerning the years you were married. If you are a widow in this same circumstance, you can receive benefits at any age. There is only one caveat. These situations will reduce the benefits anyone else in the household receives due to the death of a spouse.

How Much Is a Widow’s Pension?

The amount that a widow or a widower will draw every month depends on the situation. There are rules that try to cover all the possible scenarios. One size does not fit all. One factor is that the deceased worked and paid into Social Security. If you worked for at least 10 years, you can draw any Social Security benefit. In some cases, retired workers do not have to work that long.

Here are the benefit amounts you would receive in different scenarios. Being divorced does not affect one’s qualification for this benefit. Amounts below are all stated as a percentage of the worker’s benefit:

  • Widow or widower at full retirement age or older: 100%
  • Widow or widower from age 60 to full retirement age: 71.5% to 99%
  • Widow or widower at any age but caring for a child under 16: 75%
  • Disabled widow or widower from age 50 to 59: 71.5%
  • Child under age 18 or disabled: 75%
  • One surviving dependent parent age 62 or older: 82.5%
  • Two surviving dependent parents age 62 or older: 75% to each

The Bottom Line

An elderly widower

A high percentage of older Americans live on nothing but Social Security income. If your spouse has paid into Social Security, you may be entitled to apply for widow’s (or widower’s) benefits. The widow’s pension at least assures family members of deceased workers that they will still have income in the case of one of the breadwinner’s death.  As soon as possible after the death of a loved one, you should contact the Social Security Administration since it takes time for a widow’s pension to begin.

Tips on Retirement

  • A financial advisor can offer valuable guidance and insight as you consider how to approach retirement. Finding a financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s matching tool can connect you to several financial advisors in your area within minutes. If you’re ready, get started now.
  • Retirement planning can be as complicated as it is important. Use SmartAsset’s retirement calculator to take a look at different possible scenarios regarding your Social Security benefits.

Photo credit: ©iStock.com/Tinpixels, ©iStock.com/Bill Oxford, ©iStock.com/RAUL RODRIGUEZ

Rosemary Carlson
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