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The So-Called 'New' Social Security Rules Are Actually the Old Rules There is just so darn much misinformation out there about new Social Security rules. These rules have to do with the eventual elimination of the maximizing strategies known as "file and restrict" and "file and suspend." Every single day, I get …Read more. How to Deal With the Social Security Earnings Penalties I've gotten more than a few emails recently from Social Security beneficiaries who are under age 66 and still working and who are trapped in the web of Social Security's convoluted earnings penalty rules and the way they are administered. Those …Read more. Long Gone Husband May Mean Extra Social Security to Some I gave a couple women very nice Christmas presents over the recent holiday season. And I'm not talking about the lingerie I got my wife or the coffee maker I got my daughter. I'm talking about the gift of extra Social Security benefits I got for two …Read more. The Lights Are Still Shining Brightly at SSA About a month ago, I wrote a column about possible declining service at the Social Security Administration. I pointed out that I get frequent emails from readers who complain about overflowing waiting rooms, generally unpleasant surroundings, and …Read more.
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Questions From and About Widows


Q: My wife and I are both in our 70s and we each get our own Social Security benefit. I'm confused about what she would be due if I die. Can you help?

A: First, she'd be due that miserly one-time $255 Social Security death benefit. Frequent readers know I've often written about this embarrassing pittance the government doles out to the spouse of someone who has died. I say it should be raised (to maybe $2,500) or simply eliminated. But no one listens to me. So again, your wife would get a check for $255.

She would also receive a widow's supplement from your Social Security account IF her own benefit is less than yours. As a general rule, the supplement would take her total benefits up to whatever amount you were getting when you died. For example, let's say you are collecting $2,000 per month, and your wife gets $1,500 per month from her own retirement account. If you die, she'd keep receiving her $1,500 payment, but she'd start getting an extra $500 in widow's benefits to take her up to your $2,000 per month level.

One other little bit of Social Security business: She'd have to return any Social Security benefits deposited to your bank account for the month you die — and any subsequent months. In other words, if you die on Aug. 15, she'd have to return the Social Security benefit sent on your behalf in September (which is the August payment). Many times this won't be an issue because the Social Security check isn't even given once the government knows you've died, or the bank automatically returns the funds to the government if the Social Security check was authorized before the government learned of your death. But if your check falls through one of those cracks, it's your wife's job to return it.

No matter how the money gets returned, the bad news is that even though you were alive half of the month, the entire month's payment has to be sent back. The good news is that your wife would be due that widow's supplement for the entire month of August, even though she was a widow for only half the month.

Q: My husband died several years ago and I received the $255 death benefit.

I never received any monthly widow's benefits because my own Social Security was more than my husband's rate. Now I've learned that when I die, my children won't get the $255 death benefit. Is this true?

A: Yes, it's true. A number of years ago, in an attempt to save a few nickels for the Social Security trust funds, Congress restricted the payment of the death benefit to "a spouse who was living with the deceased when he or she died." When your husband died, there was a "living with spouse" (you), and that's why you got the $255 check. But when you die, you will leave behind no spouse, so there is no death benefit due.

Q: In a past column, you said a widow gets 100 percent of her husband's Social Security. I don't receive anywhere near that. How do I get the full 100-percent rate?

A: I usually say a widow can get "up to" 100 percent of her husband's Social Security benefit. How much she actually receives depends on several factors, primarily her age when she started getting widow's benefits. If those benefits start before age 66, they are permanently reduced roughly one-half of 1 percent for each month a check is paid before that magic "full Social Security age." For example, at age 60 — the earliest that widows can receive benefits — she'd get about a 70 percent rate. At age 62, it would be about 82 percent.

Q: I am getting widow's benefits from my deceased husband's account. I am due to inherit a substantial amount of money from my sister's estate. I was told that because the amount is more than $14,000, my Social Security benefits will be suspended when I claim the inheritance. How long will that suspension last?

A: Your Social Security benefits will not be suspended. The $14,000 limit (it's actually $14,160) applies only to earned income. In other words: If you were working and earning more than $14,160, and if you were under age 66, you might lose some or all of your widow's benefits. But the money you'll get from your sister's estate is not "earned" income. So, you could inherit a million dollars and you will still be eligible for Social Security benefits.

If you have a Social Security question, Tom Margenau has the answer. Contact him at To find out more about Tom Margenau and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at



5 Comments | Post Comment
What legal statute gives the government the right to seize a widow's inheritance of her husband's pre-paid social security benefits? Why is a widow not eligible to continue collecting her husband's benefit that was being paid because eligibility requirements had already been met? I would like to know the legal justification for reversing eligibility and confiscating a legal inheritance of money that belonged to the spouse?

Thank you.
Comment: #1
Posted by: rene Williams
Wed Jun 8, 2011 6:46 PM
my question is my mother started drawing widow benifit at age 60 and was told that she could draw an additional benifit at age 70 is this true and how is the amount figured out???
Comment: #2
Posted by: david roland
Wed Jul 20, 2011 8:47 AM
My father died in Oct. of 2011, we have not yet brought my mother in to the social security office for her to be able to collect some of my fathers share. He was 95, she is 91. He was receiving 1250 she was getting 750. It has almost been 6 months since he passed. Are we too late to go in to the social security office to for her to start receiving some of his benefits?

sincerely, Linda Sartorio28550
Comment: #3
Posted by: linda sartorio
Sat Mar 24, 2012 6:34 PM
I am receiving Widow's Benefits since I was 60 What happens when I turn 66 (next year in September)? Do I need to refile for my own or do I get additional funds?
Comment: #4
Posted by: Mary Patterson
Tue Feb 12, 2013 2:55 PM
I was married for 6 months and a couple of days when my husband passed away in April 2006. I received a lump sum of $ 250.00 or so. I am currently 53 years old, working full-time, single (without kids), did not remarry, and was wondering if I could be eligible for my husbands social security when I am of retiring age. He was May 1952 born. My question is I was married only for 6-months and did not know about his illness or that he would pass away so soon. Is there a waiver for the 9-month marriage clause. Your help will be greatly appreciated.
Comment: #5
Posted by: HARMEET
Mon Dec 2, 2013 10:18 AM
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