Let us assume both husband and wife are qualified to get Social Security benefits. One may be larger than the other.

For example, husband is 61, and wife is 60.

If husband dies suddenly, then what happens to his SS benefits?

  1. Can the wife start getting husband's benefits right away?
  2. When she becomes SS benefit eligible, does she get BOTH the benefits? Or she has to chose?
  3. How can she maximize the benefits?

4 Answers 4


Let me preface this by saying that tax law changes occur periodically so I have no clue what the current law offers in regard to your question.

Here's an old article that addresses the issue of where the higher earning spouse dies and the survivor is eligible for the Social Security survivor benefit.

With that said, you should contact the Social Security Administration either via their web site or directly and determine what choices you are eligible for you as well as the projections for each.


She gets either the amount she would get based on her own account with social security, or the survivor benefit from his account, whichever is larger.



With both under 62, as suggested, she can get neither. However, when he would have been eligible, she can get his amount even though she is still 61.

If her amount is higher, she can switch to that any time after she turns 62. However: it’s not automatic: you have to file for it, and it starts after you file—not retroactive.

When I was sixty, I filed for and began receiving my late wife’s SS. When I turned 62, I switched and doubled my income.

More info at https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou.html


RE: "How can she maximize the benefits?" This could actually be super complicated. So much so, that a whole cottage industry of software packaged designed to help people, see for example this list: https://www.thebalance.com/social-security-calculators-2388936 it may be worth seeking the advice of a knowledgeable CFP to help it out.

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