Social Security & Medicare Questions: March 2012

Social Security & Medicare Questions: March 2012

Q: Could you tell me whether I might be eligible for Social Security survivors’ benefits? I was separated from a spouse who passed away. I’m a 69-year old woman and my husband passed away in 2011. I inquired at Social Security about getting benefits, but I want to try again. We were not divorced at the time of his death. Please help.

A: Although you did not say whether your husband was receiving Social Security benefits when he passed away, you might be entitled to benefits based on his account. The fact that you were separated at the time should not affect your eligibility for Social Security widow’s (survivors’) benefits as long as you meet other qualifications.

To qualify for survivors’ benefits based on your husband’s account:

• Your spouse must have died “fully insured” meaning he paid into Social Security for at least 10 years.

• You were married for more than nine months immediately prior to the day on which he died. (If you had been divorced rather than separated, 10 years of marriage would be required to qualify for benefits.)

How much you receive depends on a number of factors, your spouse’s earnings, the age at which your spouse became eligible for full benefits, and your age. You may be eligible for 100% of the benefit that would have been payable to your spouse, provided his benefits were not reduced for taking early benefits at age 62. The surviving spouse’s benefit may not exceed the amount the insured would be receiving if living.

One factor that can reduce the amount of Social Security survivors’ benefits that you’re entitled to is a pension from work that was not covered by Social Security — for example, if you were a teacher and worked in some state or local government institution. If you are affected by this reduction, known as the Government Pension Offset provision, this could reduce to zero the amount of survivors’ benefits that you might otherwise have been entitled to. (For more information see Social Security Publication No. 05-10045.)

If you are getting benefits today based on your own work, the Social Security Administration will check to see if you can get more as a widow. If so you will receive a combination of benefits so that you receive the higher amount to which you are entitled. You will need to complete an application to switch to survivors benefits.

You should apply for survivors’ benefits as soon as possible because in some cases benefits will be paid from the time you apply and not from the time the insured died.

To learn more about survivors’ benefits, get the Social Security publication: Survivors’ Benefits, Publication No. 05-10084. You can request a copy by calling Social Security toll free at 1-800-772-1213 or visit online at