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Losing a spouse is one of the most challenging life events anyone can face, bringing both emotional turmoil and potential financial uncertainty. For widows and widowers, understanding the nuances of Social Security benefits is crucial to ensure financial stability and honor the contributions of their late spouse.

In this blog, we’ll guide you through the key aspects of securing Social Security benefits as a surviving spouse. Contact PLBH at (800) 435-7542 if you need help from an experienced attorney.

Understanding Eligibility for Survivor Benefits

Who Qualifies?

Survivor benefits are available to widows and widowers of individuals who worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits. Here are the basic eligibility criteria:

  • Age Factor: You can start receiving benefits as early as age 60, or 50 if you are disabled.
  • Marriage Duration: Generally, you must have been married for at least 9 months before your spouse’s death, though exceptions apply, particularly in cases of accidental death or certain specific circumstances.

Special Cases

  • Divorced Spouses: If you were married for 10 years or more and are currently unmarried, you might also qualify for survivor benefits based on your ex-spouse’s record.
  • Dependent Children: If you are caring for your deceased spouse’s child who is under 16 or disabled, you can receive benefits at any age.

How Much Can You Receive?

The amount of your survivor benefit depends on several factors, including your age, the type of benefit you qualify for, and your deceased spouse’s earning history. Here’s what you need to know:

  • Full Retirement Age: If you wait until your full retirement age (currently 66 to 67, depending on when you were born), you’ll receive 100% of the monthly benefit your spouse would have received.
  • Early Retirement: Choosing to receive benefits from age 60 (or 50 if disabled) will reduce the amount to about 71.5% to 99% of the monthly benefit.

Navigating the Application Process

Gathering Necessary Documents

To apply for survivor benefits, you’ll need to gather several key documents, including:

  • Your Social Security number and your deceased spouse’s as well.
  • Your marriage certificate and the death certificate of your spouse.
  • Your birth certificate.
  • Recent tax returns.

How to Apply

While you can’t apply for survivor benefits online, you can start the process by either calling the Social Security Administration or visiting your local SSA office. Given the complexity of Social Security laws and the emotional challenge of dealing with a spouse’s death, consulting with an experienced employment law attorney can provide crucial guidance and ensure you receive the full benefits to which you are entitled.

Planning for the Future

When to Claim Benefits

Deciding when to claim survivor benefits is a significant decision that should be based on your financial needs, your health, and your employment status if you are still working.

Impact on Your Benefits

If you are entitled to Social Security benefits on your own record, you might be able to switch from survivor benefits to your own retirement benefits (or vice versa) if it results in a higher payment. Understanding these strategies is key to maximizing your total Social Security benefits.

Legal Support When You Need It Most

At PLBH, we understand how overwhelming it can be to navigate life after the loss of a spouse. Our dedicated team is here to guide you through each step of securing your Social Security survivor benefits. If you have any questions or need assistance with your claim, do not hesitate to contact us at (800) 435-7542. Your initial consultation is complimentary, and we’re committed to helping you achieve the best possible outcome during this challenging time.