Surviving on Social Security survivors benefits alone is difficult for widows and widowers at age 60. Older widows and widowers fare a little better after reaching full retirement age. Age 60 is the first opportunity for widows with no minor children to claim survivors benefits unless a disability exists. A widow can claim survivors benefits as early as age 50, if disabled, or at any age if caring for minor children of the deceased.
Eligibility at Age 60
The worker must have the requisite credits for employment for the widow to collect survivors benefits. An older worker may easily have the 40 credits or 10 years of work history, but young workers may not. Special rules affect a deceased worker, and six credits in the three years prior to death are sufficient, or working approximately half the years of work life from age 21 to age at death may suffice.
The widow may be an ex-spouse if the marriage lasted 10 years or if she cares for a minor or disabled child of the deceased. Both widows may collect benefits from the work history of the deceased husband, and if the ex-spouse is not caring for minor children, the benefits she receives will not affect the total available to the spouse and other survivors.
Survivors Benefits at Age 60
The work history and actions of the deceased spouse determine survivors benefits for the widow. If the deceased spouse took early retirement benefits before reaching full retirement age, this affects the monthly benefit of the widow. Social Security regulations prevent the survivor from receiving benefits greater than the deceased when benefits are based on the deceased's work history. A 2010 report on widows and Social Security shows that of the 8 million widows receiving Social Security survivors benefits, 3 million receive lower benefits as a result of the deceased spouse taking early retirement.
Amount of Benefits at Age 60
Social Security calculates benefit amounts for surviving widows on the primary insurance amount or PIA of the deceased. The PIA is the amount the deceased would receive at full retirement age. A widow at age 60 receives 71.5 per cent of the worker's PIA, but can receive 100 per cent of the worker's PIA at her full retirement age. However, if the worker collected benefits prior to full retirement age, Social Security bases surviving widow's benefits on that figure and not the full amount. Taking retirement benefits early often reduces the amount by 25 per cent for the worker, so the widow would receive 71.5 per cent of 75 per cent of the PIA. Under another rule commonly known as the "widow's limit," the widow will not receive greater than 82.5 per cent of the PIA or any amount greater than the deceased could receive.
Changes at Age 62
The widow has two years to collect benefits on the work history of the deceased spous, if she is not caring for children of the deceased. At age 62, she may apply for benefits based on her own work history if she has one. This is "dual entitlement," as she can collect on her own work history or the work history of the deceased spouse. Calculations often include the lower amount for her work history topped off with the survivor's benefits. If her benefits are greater than those as a survivor, the widow gets her own benefit only.