Will I Get a Widow’s Pension When My Husband Dies? Understanding Your Rights as a Surviving Spouse

This information is provided by the National Academy of Social Insurance to assist individuals who are interested in learning more about Social Security, which is still a vital component of retirement security for American workers and their families. We invite you to use the resources on our website to learn more about social insurance policies as they stand today and to consider how they might change in the future to adapt to a changing global environment.

Losing a spouse is a deeply emotional and challenging experience. On top of the grief and emotional turmoil, you may also be facing financial uncertainty. If your husband was the primary breadwinner, you might be wondering if you’ll be eligible for a widow’s pension.

This guide will help you understand your rights as a surviving spouse and answer the question: “Will I get a widow’s pension when my husband dies?” We’ll cover the following key points:

  • Eligibility criteria for receiving a widow’s pension
  • Factors affecting the amount of your pension
  • Steps to take to claim your pension
  • Additional resources for support

Understanding Survivor Benefits: Your Right to a Pension

As a surviving spouse, you may be entitled to receive a portion of your deceased husband’s pension as a survivor benefit. This benefit is designed to provide financial security and support during a difficult time. However, eligibility and the amount you receive depend on several factors, including:

  • Where your husband worked: The type of pension plan your husband participated in determines the applicable rules and regulations. This guide primarily focuses on private employer pension plans governed by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).
  • When your husband retired: The date of your husband’s retirement plays a crucial role in determining your eligibility and benefit amount.
  • When your husband died: The date of your husband’s death also influences your eligibility and benefit amount.
  • Whether you waived your survivor benefits: In certain situations, you may have the option to waive your survivor benefits. However, this requires your informed consent in writing.

Key Considerations for Your Eligibility

Let’s delve deeper into each of these factors to understand your specific situation better:

1. Where Did Your Husband Work?

  • Private Employer: If your husband worked for a private company and participated in a pension plan, the information provided in this guide applies to you.
  • Government Employees: If your husband was a government employee (federal, state, or local), different rules and regulations may apply. You’ll need to research the specific pension plan for government employees.
  • Military Personnel: Military personnel have their own unique pension system with specific rules for survivor benefits.
  • Church Employees: If your husband worked for a church or church-related organization, specific rules may apply to their pension plan.

2. When Did Your Husband Retire?

  • Before 1985: If your husband retired before 1985, the rules regarding survivor benefits may differ. It’s crucial to check with the specific pension plan for details.
  • 1985 or After: Generally, if your husband retired in 1985 or later, you have stronger protections regarding your survivor benefits. Your consent is required for any waiver of these benefits.

3. When Did Your Husband Die?

  • Before August 23, 1984: If your husband died before this date, he might have chosen a benefit option that wouldn’t provide any survivor benefits.
  • On or After August 23, 1984, but Before January 1, 1985: You might be eligible for a special survivor benefit.
  • On or After January 1, 1985: You are likely eligible for survivor benefits, provided you meet other eligibility criteria.

4. Did You Waive Your Survivor Benefits?

While you can choose to waive your survivor benefits, this requires your informed consent in writing. The pension plan administrator must provide you with a clear explanation of the waiver’s implications. If you feel pressured or unsure about the waiver, you can challenge its validity.

Additional Considerations: Divorce and Special Cases

If you were divorced at the time of your husband’s death, you might still be eligible for survivor benefits as part of your divorce settlement. However, this depends on the specific terms of your divorce decree and whether it includes a Qualified Domestic Relations Order (QDRO) addressing survivor benefits.

In some cases, even if you were not married at the time of your husband’s death, you might still be eligible for survivor benefits. This might apply if you were in a long-term, committed relationship with your husband and can provide evidence of your shared finances and living arrangements.

Calculating Your Potential Widow’s Pension

The amount of your widow’s pension will depend on several factors, including:

  • Your husband’s years of service: The longer your husband worked and contributed to the pension plan, the higher your potential benefit.
  • Your husband’s salary: Higher salaries generally translate into higher pension benefits.
  • The specific pension plan formula: Each pension plan has its own formula for calculating benefits, which can impact the amount you receive.
  • Your age at the time of your husband’s death: Your age can affect the amount and timing of your benefit payments.

For a more accurate estimate of your potential widow’s pension, it’s best to contact the plan administrator directly. They can provide you with personalized information based on your specific circumstances.

Claiming Your Widow’s Pension: Steps to Take

Once you’ve determined your eligibility, you can take the following steps to claim your widow’s pension:

  1. Contact the plan administrator: The plan administrator will provide you with the necessary forms and instructions for claiming your benefits.
  2. Gather required documentation: This may include your husband’s death certificate, marriage certificate, and proof of your age.
  3. Complete and submit the application form: Ensure you provide all the required information accurately and submit it within the specified timeframe.
  4. Follow up with the plan administrator: Stay in touch with the plan administrator to track the status of your application and address any questions or concerns.

Additional Resources for Support

Navigating the complexities of widow’s pensions can be overwhelming. Here are some resources that can provide guidance and support:

  • Social Security Administration: The Social Security Administration offers survivor benefits to eligible spouses and dependents.
  • Pension Rights Center: This organization provides free legal assistance and information on pension rights.
  • National Organization of Social Security Claimants’ Representatives (NOSSCR): NOSSCR can connect you with a qualified representative to help you navigate the claims process.
  • Widowed Person’s Support Group: Joining a support group can provide emotional support and connect you with others who understand your experience.

Losing a spouse is a difficult experience, and financial concerns can add to the stress. Understanding your rights as a surviving spouse and taking steps to claim your widow’s pension can help provide financial security and stability during this challenging time. Remember, you are not alone, and there are resources available to help you navigate this process.

How much do widowed spouses receive?

Women make up 95% of survivors’ beneficiaries, so Social Security survivors’ benefits are especially important to them. This is because women typically outlive their husbands and earn less than their husbands. The surviving spouse of a retired worker receives benefits equivalent to the full retirement benefit of the deceased worker upon their death.

However, depending on the widow’s or widower’s circumstances, this benefit could significantly lower her (his) monthly household income because, instead of the couple’s two prior Social Security benefits, only one (whichever is higher) is now received. In particular, women who have worked and accrued their own Social Security benefits may find it difficult to cover the growing fixed costs associated with aging.

For more information on Social Security and survivor benefits, please visit the Social Security Administration at ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/.

  • Every year, the influential Academy resource Social Security Benefits, Finances, and Policy Options: A Primer is updated to take into account the most recent Trustees’ Report.
  • This brief examines four strategies to lessen the pervasive poverty experienced by older widows, which is a result of the Social Security formula that disproportionately harms women who were higher earners: Social Security Brief No. 9.
  • The following paper proposes a solution to the problem of women, particularly women of color, being disproportionately penalized by the lack of social insurance support for caregiving: Crediting Care in Social Security: A Proposal for an Income Tested Care Credit.

Who is entitled to survivors’ benefits from Social Security?

For widowed spouses, Social Security is a vital source of financial stability. About 7. Social Security benefits for 8 million people over 60 are determined, at least in part, by the work history of a deceased spouse. These surviving spouse beneficiaries are overwhelmingly women.

These beneficiaries include 3. 6 million people who are eligible only as widowed spouses. Another 4. 2 million people whose deceased spouses’ benefits exceeded their own, but who are still eligible for benefits based on their own work records, will receive larger individual benefits (though, as discussed below, lower household total benefits)

Social Security Survivor/Widow Benefits 2023


How long does a widow receive her husband’s pension?

How Long Do You Receive Social Security Survivor Benefits? Social Security survivor benefits are payable to the surviving spouse for the remainder of their life. Restrictions apply for divorced spouses eligible to receive benefits.

What does a widow get when husband dies?

If you claim widow benefits at full retirement age, you can receive 100% of your deceased spouse’s retirement benefit. In other circumstances, Social Security determines the percentage you can claim based on various factors, including your age, whether you have a disability, and whether you care for any dependents.

How much of a husband’s pension does a widow get?

Additional state pension that you inherit from your late husband; you inherit at least 50% of his additional state pension, and a higher percentage if he was born before 6th October 1945; see here.

How much of your husband’s Social Security does a widow get?

Surviving spouse, full retirement age or older—100% of your benefit amount. Surviving spouse, age 60 to full retirement age—71½ to 99% of your basic amount. A child under age 18 (19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or has a disability—75%.

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