Updated: Jan 9, 2019
Who likes to fill out monotonous paperwork and endless forms? I definitely don't, and I doubt anyone does but that's the reality of widowhood-- you'll have to figure out what, where, when, why and how to fill out the piles of legal documents. Before I spent hours researching, I didn't know anything about these processes, and the last thing you want to be doing following bereavement is spending hours researching tedious & boring material that reminds you of your loss. We'll debrief some of the processes to answer your general questions, and we'll link you to additional resources so that you can find the information you need.
What is Social Security?
Most employees have "Social Security" taxes deducted from their paychecks. Upon retiring, these individuals begin receiving social security benefits each month, in the form of monetary assistance (checks).
How to receive social security from deceased spouse?
You need to report the death as soon as possible. You can provide your spouses' Social Security number to the funeral home & request they report this information to the Social Security Administration, or you can call 1-800-772-1213 (between 7am-7pm, Monday-Friday) to report this information yourself. Note: You cannot apply online.
What are the benefits?
A single payment of $255 may be paid to the surviving spouse (or child) for a "death fee", or lump-sum death payment. In the case of widowhood, you may be eligible to receive full benefits if:
You are a widow/widower over the age of 60 (or over the age of 50, if disabled)
You are a widow or widower (any age) who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under the age 16 or disabled, and receiving their benefits).
If you meet any of the other eligibility qualifications found here.
"The average monthly Social Security benefit in June 2017 was: $1,391 a month for retired workers; $1,3071 a month for widows or widowers over the age of 60; $1,172 a month for disabled workers; $2,278 a month for a disabled worker and a spouse; $2,664 a month for a widowed mother and two children." - National Academy of Social Insurance
What are the limitations?
Some limitations include:
Not being eligible to receive benefits if you remarried before the age of 60 (age 50 if disabled) while still married. If you remarry after the age of 60, you are still eligible.
You may switch to your own retirement benefits after the age of 62.
Find more limitations here.
"Your Non-covered Pension May Affect Your Benefits As Spouse or Widow/Widower. If you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of your Social Security spouse's, widow's, or widower's benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO. - Social Security Administration
What is a pension?
A pension is defined by Oxford Dictionary as a "regular payment made during a person's retirement from an investment fund to which that person or their employer has contributed during their working life."These payments are typically distributed monthly following retirement.
How do I know if I have non-covered pension?
Your pension is non-covered if you worked in a federal, state, or local government job, or any other job where Social Security taxes were not deducted from your paycheck.
What is the GPO's Impact on Social Security Benefits?
"The GPO reduces the amount of your Social Security spouse's, widow's, or widower's benefits by two-thirds of the amount of your government pension. For example, if you receive a monthly civil service pension of $600, two-thirds of that, or $400, must be used to offset your Social Security spouse's, widow's, or widower's benefits. If you are eligible for a $500 spouse's benefit, you will receive $100 per month from Social Security ($500 - $400 = $100)." - Social Security Administration
Who is exempt?
Check here to see if you qualify for exemptions. You are likely exempt if:
"You are receiving a government pension that is not based on your earnings OR
You are a federal (including Civil Service Offset), state, or local government employee whose government pension is based on a job where you were paying Social Security taxes AND
You filed for and were entitled to spouse's, widow's, or widower's benefits before April 1, 2004 OR
Your last day of employment (that your pension is based on) is before July 1, 2004 OR
You paid Social Security taxes on your earnings during the last 60 months of government service. (Under certain conditions, fewer than 60 months may be required for people whose last day of employment falls after June 30, 2004, and before March 2, 2009.)" - Social Security Administration
What are VA Benefits?
VA benefits are benefits given by the military to Veterans and their families. Some VA benefits include disability compensation, education/training, employment services, healthcare, home loans, pension and more! Widowed Survivors may be eligible to receive certain VA benefits, including VA Loans.
"The Survivors Pension benefit, which may also be referred to as Death Pension, is a tax-free monetary benefit payable to a low-income, un-remarried surviving spouse and/or unmarried child(ren) of a deceased Veteran with wartime service."- US Department of Veteran Affairs
This pension is based on your annual income.
Eligibility for Survivors Pension
For a widow/widower to qualify, the deceased Veteran must've met the following requirements:
For service on/before 09/07/1980: the Veteran must have served at least 90 days of active military service, with at least one day during a war time period.
For service after 09/07/1980: the Veteran must have served at least 24 months (or the full period of active duty) with at least one day during a war time period.
Must have been honorably discharged
Additional eligibility requirements can be found here.
VA Loans are given to eligible Veterans (and their family) to assist with purchasing or refinancing a home. VA Loan Eligibility can be found here. For more information, visit the US Department of Veteran Affairs website here.
Filing taxes as a Widow or Widower is not as complicated as one might think, but the filing changes depending on the amount of time that has passed since the loss. In the first year following the loss, you can still file joint return if you didn't remarry. In the second and third year, you can file as a qualifying widow/widower. After that, you file your taxes as "single". For more information and details, read this article on Drake Enterprise's website.
Articles & Webpages cited in this article:
Filing as a Widow or Widower. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.1040.com/tax-guide/taxes-for-families/filing-as-a-widow-er/
Government Pension Offset. (2017, February). Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf
How Your Spouse Earns Social Security Survivors Benefits. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html
Survivors Pension. (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.benefits.va.gov/pension/spousepen.asp
What is Social Security? (n.d.). Retrieved January 3, 2019, from https://www.nasi.org/learn/socialsecurity/overview