Can Briefly Married Widow Get His Benefits?

By Dr. Don Taylor, Ph.D., CFA, CFP,

Dear Dr. Don,

How long must you be married before you can draw off of your husband's Social Security? I married a year ago at the age of 64. Due to my health, I took early retirement at age 63. My husband recently died.

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-- Linn Limits

Dear Linn, I'm sorry for your loss. Generally speaking, for you to claim a survivors benefit on your husband's Social Security record, you need to have been married for at least nine months before he died. There are multiple exceptions to this nine-month standard that I won't list here. Instead, I suggest you discuss your situation with a representative at your local Social Security office.

If you qualify for survivors benefits, how much you receive depends on your age at the time of your retirement. A widow younger than full retirement age, but at least age 60, receives between 71.5% and 99% of the deceased worker's benefit amount. At full retirement age, the survivor receives 100% of the deceased worker's benefit amount. Your full retirement age is 66.

Your husband's age does not affect the amount of your survivors benefit. But if your husband started receiving retirement benefits before his full retirement age, then your survivors benefit will be reduced because it is based on his reduced benefit amount.

Thanks to Edward Lafferty, a public affairs specialist at the Social Security Administration, for helping me with this reply.

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