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Navigating Social Security Benefits After Losing Your Spouse: What You Need to Know Thumbnail

Navigating Social Security Benefits After Losing Your Spouse: What You Need to Know

By Angela Dorsey

When your partner passes away, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed by a mix of emotions and physical challenges. It can be tough to figure out what to do next, and making financial decisions, in particular, might seem especially daunting.

After losing your spouse, you’ll have to think about Social Security benefits for yourself and any benefits related to your deceased partner. This is a lot to handle during an already difficult and emotional time. That’s why it’s a good idea to start planning for these decisions now, before you have to face them alone.

I suggest having a conversation with a financial professional or reaching out to the Social Security Administration while you both can. This way, you and your spouse can understand how to manage survivor benefits in the future. Let’s explore what Social Security offers for those who are left behind, so you can feel more prepared for what’s ahead.

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 that 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.

Support Your Spouse’s Financial Future

Supporting your spouse’s financial stability in the event of your passing offers peace for the future. At Dorsey Wealth Management, we provide guidance through estate planning to help safeguard your family’s future. Whether you need to set up trusts, update your will, or plan for other contingencies, our team is here to guide you through the process. 

If you’re a current client or someone thinking about getting your financial affairs in order, contact us today to start preparing for the unexpected with confidence. Schedule a free introductory 30-minute phone call, or you can reach us at (310) 370-7776 or angela@dorseywealth.com.

About Angela

Angela Dorsey is the founder and financial advisor at Dorsey Wealth Management, a fee-only financial planning firm based in Torrance, California, helping women prepare for retirement. Angela earned a BS in computer science from Loyola Marymount University, an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management, and spent 20 years as a Senior Compensation Specialist in large corporations before becoming a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional and a Registered Investment Advisor (RIA). That background gave her the tools to couple with her passion for empowering women to make the best financial decisions possible. Angela lives in Torrance, California, with her husband. She enjoys spending time at the beach or surrounded by nature. To learn more about Angela, connect with her on LinkedIn.