Social Security Q&A: What Can I Do When My Terminally Ill Spouse Passes?

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Question: I will be 60 at the end of September and understand that I will be eligible for survivor benefits at that time. My husband of 22 years, who is in home hospice and not expected to live through this year, has been receiving Social Security benefits (he is 66) that had been converted from Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) payments.

I was an office worker for many years, but stopped working to take care of my ill husband about 10 years ago. Additionally, I was married previously for 14 years to a professional who made substantially more money than I did. He is still alive, but was granted SSDI before he turned 62 last year. I may have more options for drawing Social Security benefits, but how can I plan my finances going forward when I can’t explore my options until I’m actually planning a funeral?

Answer: Extremely sorry to hear about your husband’s condition. If your husband passes away, you will, indeed, be able to collect a reduced widows benefit. There are two alternative strategies to consider. First, consider taking your reduced widows benefit immediately. Then, at your full retirement age, file just for your divorcée spousal benefit on your ex’s work record, and at 70 take your own retirement benefit. Or second, consider taking your retirement and divorcée spousal benefits at 62, then fil​e ​for ​your ​unreduced widows benefits at​ full retirement age​.​

Also, once your ex passes away, you can collect widows benefits on his work record. Unfortunately, I don’t know of any software program that handles multiple marriages, but my and other companies can make special calculations for you.


When it comes to personal finance, economics and our software care about one thing—your living standard. All questions in personal finance boil down to your living standard. Your decision about when and how to take Social Security can affect your living standard throughout your retirement.

I am a professor of economics and I’ve spent a good part of my academic career studying personal financial behavior. Here’s why my colleagues and I developed Maximize My Social Security. Deciding, on your own, which Social Security benefits to take and in which month to take them is incredibly difficult. Most households face millions of options. You can easily lose tens of thousands of dollars making the wrong choices.

My company’s software, Maximize My Social Security, can help you avoid costly mistakes and instead discover your maximized lifetime household benefits.

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