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Explaining the Calculation Behind Widow's and Wives' Benefits


Q: I am retired and get about $900 per month. My ex-husband also is retired and he's getting $1,600 per month. I had always assumed that I will have to wait until he dies before I'd be able to get some of his Social Security. But after reading a recent column you wrote, it sounds like I could be getting some of his Social Security now. Is this true?

A: Based on the Social Security benefit amounts you gave me, it is NOT true in your case.

Many women think that their husband, or ex-husband, has to be deceased before they can collect part of his Social Security benefits. But a woman can get part of her husband's (or ex-husband's) Social Security while he's still alive IF her own benefit is significantly smaller than his. In your case, your benefit just isn't small enough. Or, we could say his just isn't big enough!

The Social Security Administration always pays a woman her own retirement benefit first. Then it looks to see if she might be due some supplemental benefits as a wife from her husband's record. As a general rule, a woman can be supplemented up to half of her husband's (or ex-husband's) Social Security benefit. But that is only if she did not take early retirement benefits on her own record. If she took her own Social Security before reaching her "full retirement age," then she could be due a supplement up to as little as about one-fourth of her husband's Social Security rate.

The percentages explained above apply to a woman whose husband (or ex) is still alive.

If he is deceased, the percentage of the supplement goes up. Once again, SSA will generally pay a woman her own retirement benefit first. Then they look to see if she can get a widow's supplement on her husband's record (or a divorced widow's supplement on her ex-husband's record). A woman who becomes a widow (and starts collecting widow's benefits) at 66 or older, will usually qualify for a supplement up to 100 percent of her husband's Social Security benefit.

If she starts getting widow's benefits before age 66, then the percentage of the widow's supplement goes down, to as low as 70 percent for a widow who is 60 years old. The same percentages apply to a divorced widow.

Let's use your case as an example. You said you are getting $900 per month and your ex-husband is getting $1,600 per month. I am going to assume that both of you waited until your full retirement age to start your Social Security benefits. If one or both of you took early retirement benefits, then the amount due would be different.

While your ex is alive, the maximum supplement you could receive would be up to $800 (50 percent of his benefit). Because your own retirement benefit of $900 exceeds your maximum wife's benefit rate, you aren't due any wife's supplement. On the other hand, had your husband's rate been $2,000 per month, for example, then your retirement benefit could be supplemented up to half of that, or $1,000. In other words, SSA would pay you your own $900 retirement benefit - and then give you a $100 per month wife's supplement to take you up to the $1,000 level.

When your ex-husband dies, you would be due a widow's supplement up to 100 percent of his rate. So, when that happens, SSA will continue to pay your $900 retirement benefit, and supplement that with $700 in widow's benefits on his record to take you up to his $1,600 rate.

Please bear in mind that this is a very broad-brushed explanation of benefit computations for wives and widows (and divorced wives and divorced widows). I really just hinted at all the variables that might be involved. So the bottom line message is that you should always check with your local Social Security office to go over all the particulars of your case and let them decide if and when you are due benefits from your husband's or ex-husband's Social Security record.

To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



35 Comments | Post Comment
I am a divorced woman after 21 years of marriage. My ex-husband died and I applied for his SS. He did not take any SS while he was alive as he was a millionaire. My SS office tells me that there is a limit as to what my combined monthly payment will be. Somewhere around $3,000 for both my work payment and his work payment. My problem with all this is that he earned and payed on probably about 200 credits. In August I received a letter telling me they had recalculated my combined payment increasing his portion by $38 dollard and decreasing my portion by $97.00. When I questioned the math they told me there was a cap on how much I could receive. In 2009 my SS payment (based on my work) was $1370 per month; now my portion of the SS payment is $1273. They told me that they do not pay "cents", rounding up or down depending on the amount of "cents." In my case they didn't round up. Where does all this little nickel and dimes go? $97 from my work record a month and all the little $1. If I am supposed to be paid my full SS payment first (in this case I'm not), why am I getting a runaround? I can't get an answer and the office here does not allow personal meeting; all dialogue is done over the phone. The letter they send is a vailed threat--if I question how things are computed, I could be denied any payment.
Comment: #1
Posted by: Nelson
Tue Oct 12, 2010 7:30 AM
I am receiving widow's benefits from my ex husband. Is that the same as his social security. I was wondering because when I applied they gave me the widow's benefits. I am still working and after I receive 14,000 this beneift will stop till the next year. If I receive his social security instead of widow's beneftits is there a cut off for this as well. Thank you.
Comment: #2
Posted by: Karla Douglas
Wed Oct 13, 2010 11:14 AM
I will be 60 in Feb. and will collect widows SS benefits. My husband died in 2004 and was collecting $1600. monthly in ss disability. He started collecting the disability around the age of 60. He died at 63. How much can I expect to collect monthly? I do not believe the $1600. he collected was the full benefit he would have collected at 65.
Comment: #3
Posted by: barbara fraser
Sat Nov 13, 2010 8:53 AM
I am a federal employee I am under CSRS. I can retire at 55 with 30 yrs of service. I do not pay into ss. I have an ex-deceased husband that i was married to for 11 yrs. I know about the government offset. do you think i will receive anything on his ss? My kids collected from him when he died, and his new wife until she got a job, and they were only married about 3 years, and a child she had with him, is still collecting. I do have some ss points from regualr employment.
Comment: #4
Posted by: Dee
Thu Jan 13, 2011 12:13 PM
my sisters husband died three weeks ago she draws around 900 a mo. her husband was still working he had a massive heart attack they are telling her she is going to collect only hers because hers would a little larger i thought she would get some at least after he paid in for 30 years shouldnt she at least get some of his
Comment: #5
Posted by: judy komlosi
Wed Mar 2, 2011 2:36 PM
What if the deceased spouse drew less Social Security than the surviving widow? Can she still draw any of his benefits if she was married to him ten years?
Comment: #6
Posted by: Roxanne Jordan
Thu Jun 16, 2011 9:58 AM
i am getting widows pension.i started getting widowns pension at age 60. i was wondering if i will still get some of my husbands benefits when i fully retire? Or will i get any more money from widows benefits as i get older?
thank you
Comment: #7
Posted by: Lora Lebedeff
Tue Jul 5, 2011 11:24 PM
I have been a widow since 2002,i have never applied for widow benefits,but my children do receive survivor ben. I was wondering if its to late to apply and is there a year amount of time to have been married??
Comment: #8
Posted by: Stefanie andrews
Wed Nov 2, 2011 10:22 PM
My husband passed away in 2006. i have been told that I can draw SS benefits. he would have been 62 in 2012. I will be 56 in 2012. is that a true that I can draw his ss?
Comment: #9
Posted by: pattie nalls
Wed Nov 9, 2011 8:57 AM
when i get a response posted?
Comment: #10
Posted by: pattie nalls
Wed Nov 9, 2011 9:05 AM
How many divorced, new widows can draw ex husband s ss? One is widow the other current wife
Comment: #11
Posted by: Msturino
Sat Feb 11, 2012 7:27 AM
My husband passed in 2002 at the age of 57..he would have been 67 last year..I am only 57 ..58 in july..can I can any of his ss disability that he use to get before he passed or do I have to wait to be 60....
Comment: #12
Posted by: Patricia Bickerstaff
Fri Feb 17, 2012 3:50 PM
My Husband is a retiree from the federal goverment we have been married for 50 years, and we are going to get a divorce I want to know the benefits I am entitled to received from the retirement amount he receive, the health insurence we both get.
Comment: #13
Posted by: Mary Bustamante
Mon Feb 20, 2012 9:19 AM
I am divorced from my husband of 25 years, he is alive and still working, however I live off of my early SSA for about 10 years or so and made an appt. to SSA to put in for my ex's SSA, they told me he has to be retired first before I qualify, I think think is wrong as I have waited many years, until I turned 61 years old and I am living on $700.00 a month and can hardly survive. I have a permanant disability, COPD and think why do I have to live like this, I can hardly make ends meet and am living with an old friend until I can get my old place, but it is very hard. Help!
Comment: #14
Posted by: Pauline G.
Fri Mar 9, 2012 12:23 PM
I received SS at 62-when my ex turned 62 I applied for his...they cut his in half and only gave me the difference between his and this right
Comment: #15
Posted by: sue
Fri Apr 13, 2012 9:55 AM
My husband is 67 and I'm 68. He gets 1538.00 a month and i get 771.00 now. If he passes will I still get the 771.00 or how much would i get?
Comment: #16
Posted by: charlene tschopp
Wed May 30, 2012 5:00 AM
I am 63 years old and have paid into 30 some odd years with full ss credits with an estimated income for the last 5 years of 31500. I am not married and my x husband just recently passed away at the age of 62.

Recently the SS office gave me an estimate for my ss benefits and his (who had not died at that time).

My question being, will there be an additional amount added to this since there was a widows benefit column not estimated. Does his death increase my total ss benefit should I retire now at this date.
Comment: #17
Posted by: Jennifer Moore
Tue Jun 12, 2012 6:35 AM
why is it that a widow i know who is the same age as me is getting widow's benifits and i am not. we both have no children at home or in school and both r not disabled.
Comment: #18
Posted by: nora bumgardner
Tue Jun 12, 2012 8:25 AM
My husband died August 2010. My daughter who was 10 at time of his death and his disable adult son a myself was receiving his dealth benefits, now almost two years later someone else has file a claim under his ss# how do we no how many poeple is intitle to his social security and that they are ligit. No one new of any other children.
Comment: #19
Posted by: Carolyn Wilson
Fri Jun 15, 2012 4:11 AM
I was married for 22 years After my deivorce my ex husband passed away.. I remarried in 1993 and worked til I retired at age 67. I get 700 dollars a month. Can I collect a benefit off my first husband? My current husband does not collect SS as he is too young and also is unemployed so my 700 is our only income.
Comment: #20
Posted by: Nita Kinney
Tue Aug 14, 2012 4:09 PM
when can i collect widows benifts
Comment: #21
Posted by: margrit bautz
Thu Oct 18, 2012 2:53 PM
I am 52 and trying to get dissability.My husband is 55 and on dissability and his health is getting worst,if he passes will I be able to get any kind of benefits?I am afraid I will loose everything!Please help!
Comment: #22
Posted by: KimLewis
Sat Dec 8, 2012 11:56 AM
after being married for 18 years my husband and i divorced...6 years later i ex pased away this year at 64 can i collect from his ss
Comment: #23
Posted by: susan larlee
Wed Dec 26, 2012 3:51 PM
Comment: #24
Thu Dec 27, 2012 10:09 AM
My husband and I both receive ssi he took an early retirement from the state. I still work and did not take my ssi until my full retirement age of 66. Also my ssi is more than his by about $250. When he dies am I entitled to the widows benefit?
Comment: #25
Posted by: connie williams
Wed Jan 2, 2013 12:24 PM
I am 61 years old and I started collecting my ex-husband S/S after he died. I have not been able to work because of an illness that I have and I applied for SSD which I recently had a hearing and waiting to see if I have been approved. My question is if I get approved will I still receive my ex-husbands S/S ( widows income) or will I lose that income and only receive the SSD? Thank you in advance for your time.

Posated by:Francine DiGiorgio
Comment: #26
Posted by: Francine DiGiorgio
Mon Jan 7, 2013 4:09 PM
My husband passed away 22 yrs. ago . He would now be retirement age . I am 60 so I can't retire yet . Can I collect off from his now ?
Comment: #27
Posted by: Betty Warhurst
Sun May 5, 2013 3:22 AM
My husband passed away 22 yrs. ago . He would now be retirement age . I am 60 so I can't retire yet . Can I collect off from his now ?
Comment: #28
Posted by: Betty Warhurst
Sun May 5, 2013 3:22 AM
My husband passed away 22 yrs. ago . He would now be retirement age . I am 60 so I can't retire yet . Can I collect off from his now ?
Comment: #29
Posted by: Betty Warhurst
Sun May 5, 2013 3:22 AM
My husband passed away 22 yrs. ago . He would now be retirement age . I am 60 so I can't retire yet . Can I collect off from his now ?
Comment: #30
Posted by: Betty Warhurst
Sun May 5, 2013 3:22 AM
Hi my name is Rita and my husband past in August 2008.I am collecting widows disability.I had been disabled but never filed till my husband past away.he worked all his life so he put in more than me.he died at 52 & I was wondering if I would ever be able to collect any money he would have gotten if he would of retired..
Comment: #31
Posted by: Rita Clark
Tue Jun 11, 2013 7:13 AM
My husband is filing for early retirement. Would I be allowed a supplement? I am 59 and will continue to work with some medical restrictions. Can I receive a supplement?
Comment: #32
Posted by: Shelia Clark
Sun Jun 30, 2013 10:40 PM
My ex husband just passed away a week ago. I am 62 years old. Can i collect widows benefits if he had remarried to a young lady 40 yrs. old.
Comment: #33
Posted by: marcy lopez
Wed Aug 14, 2013 10:37 PM
I am a widow and receive social security benefits off of(for lack of better term) my deceased husband. My twins recently turned 18, which cut them off of their ss checks and increased my and my other 2 childrens checks.. My question is, when my other 2 children reach the age of 18 how. will this affect my ss check? Will my ss check be "cut off" or will it be adjusted like it was when my twins turned 18? I just want to be prepared in order to be able to continue to take care of my children in the future. Thanks very much.
Comment: #34
Posted by: angelina2713
Sun Sep 1, 2013 5:15 PM
I have been divorced from my x husband for over 25 years. I did remarry in 2004. He was on disability at age 64 which is when he passed..Just this month actually. He did remarry so can I get 1005 of his social security and what would the present widow get? I've already applied for his SS but I get conflicting answers...
Comment: #35
Posted by: sherry thacker
Tue Oct 29, 2013 4:34 AM
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