What happens to Social Security benefits when a spouse dies? Let’s use an example of Bill and Ann Jones. Bill and Ann are both receiving Social Security benefits when Bill dies suddenly of a heart attack. Ann can keep her own Social Security benefit payment or she can claim a survivor benefit based on the benefit Bill received prior to his death.
Let’s assume Ann was 61 when Bill died, and not receiving Social Security benefits. At Bill’s death, Ann would qualify for widow benefits because she is age 60 or older. Of course, once she reaches 62, she can receive benefits based on her own work record if that is greater than the amount she receives based on Bill’s record.
What if Ann, age 40, and Bill, age 45 had a child, Charlie, at home when Bill died? In this scenario, as long as the Charlie is younger than 16 and entitled to benefits, Ann would also receive Social Security benefits as long as she continues to care for Charlie, or until Charlie reaches age 18 (or up to age 19 if he is still a student in high school).
A spouse can increase his surviving spouse’s benefits by 20% if he claims benefits at age 66 and by 60% if he claims benefits at age 70. An older spouse with adequate income from other sources should defer claiming Social Security benefits until later in life, in order to provide a higher Social Security benefit to his or her surviving spouse.