Social Security Benefits for a Surviving Spouse

Preston Rosamond |

In the aftermath of losing a spouse, a wave of emotions and practical challenges can leave you feeling overwhelmed and uncertain about the future. You may struggle to make financial decisions as you work through this difficult transition.

In a relatively brief time frame following your spouse’s passing, you’ll face decisions regarding both your own Social Security benefits and those of your deceased spouse. Given the emotional upheaval and stress that come with such a loss, it’s wise to address these choices well before the need arises.

I recommend starting the discussion with a financial advisor or reaching out to the Social Security Administration to explore your options and plan for the future together. Today let’s explore the specifics of Social Security benefits for surviving spouses to help you navigate this part of financial planning with confidence.

Eligibility for Survivor Benefits

Monthly payments of Social Security survivor benefits are available to you as a surviving spouse of a worker eligible to receive Social Security if you:

  • Had been married for at least nine months
  • Are at least 60 years old (at least 50 if you are disabled)
  • Are younger than 60 years and caring for the deceased’s children under 16 years of age
  • Are not entitled to an equal or higher amount of Social Security benefits for your work

Also, the deceased spouse must have earned the required credits to receive Social Security benefits. These credits increase with age and hit a limit of 40 (the equivalent of 10 years of work) for your lifetime. 

Applying for Social Security Benefits

When a spouse dies, you must notify the federal Social Security Administration as soon as possible. However, you cannot report the death—or apply for benefits—online. It must be done by phone, through the mail, or in person.

Most often, the funeral home handling your deceased spouse will report the death to the Social Security Administration. You can simply give the funeral home your spouse’s Social Security number.

If you are receiving no Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration suggests you apply as soon as possible after a spouse’s death. In some circumstances, Social Security benefits might not be retroactive. 

However, applying for survivor benefits does not mean you need to begin receiving them right away. This is where the planning you and your spouse do before either of you dies is most important for preserving the financial well-being of the spouse who is left behind.

You don’t need to apply if you already are receiving Social Security benefits on the work record of your spouse or your parents. The Social Security Administration will automatically switch you to survivor benefits. 

But you do have to apply if you’re receiving retirement or disability benefits on your work record. The Social Security Administration will check whether you can get a higher Social Security benefit as a survivor.

Documents to Prepare

The list of documents the Social Security Administration may ask you to supply when applying for Social Security benefits is long. It includes:

  • Proof of your spouse’s death (from the funeral home or a death certificate)
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of birth (original)
  • Proof you are a U.S. citizen or lawful alien if not born in the U.S.
  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns for your spouse (photocopy okay)
  • Marriage certificate
  • Military discharge papers if you had been in the armed services
  • Two forms for disability benefits (SSA-3368 and SSA-827) describing your condition and releasing the information to the Social Security Administration

The list of questions you’ll need to answer is even longer. Again, the Social Security Administration suggests applying as soon as possible, even if you do not have all the documents. 

As with any kind of estate planning, many couples don’t want to talk about the possible death of their spouse. However, having a plan in place allows you to gather the required documents and answers so you have them when you need them.

Get Started Today

Planning for the financial well-being of your spouse after your passing is something you want to proactively think about ahead of time. At The Rosamond Financial Group, we’re here to help you prepare so your loved ones are taken care of even in your absence. Our team works to create personalized estate plans tailored to your unique circumstances and priorities. From optimizing Social Security survivor benefits to implementing strategies for wealth preservation, we are here to guide you through every step of the process.

Contact us today to schedule a consultation by calling my office at 830-798-9400 or emailing  

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About Preston

Preston Rosamond is a financial advisor and the founder of The Rosamond Financial Group Wealth Management, LLC with over two decades of industry experience. He provides comprehensive wealth management and financial services to successful business owners, corporate executives, and affluent retirees who enjoy simplicity and seek a professional to help them pursue their goals. Preston personally serves his clients with an individual touch, a sincere heart, and his servant’s attitude is evident from the moment you meet him. Learn more about Preston or start the conversation about your finances with him by emailing or schedule a call on his online calendar.