My wife died so my daughter receives survivor benefits. Am I eligible?


Q. My wife died from cancer when she was 40. Social Security said my daughter was eligible for survivor’s benefits until she was 18. We put the funds into a bank account opened for her. Am I also eligible for benefits? Social Security said I can’t because I earn too much and I’m not disabled.
— Dad

A. We’re sorry for your loss. Social Security is very confusing, even in the best of times.

Because your daughter is under 18, she’s eligible to receive survivor benefits.

She can still be eligible if she turns 19 but she needs to be a full-time high school student, said Jeanne Kane, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

If she’s currently disabled, then her benefits would last even longer.

“Your daughter must be older than 16 because if she were younger then you’d be eligible for benefits as a widower to take care of her,” Kane said. “As a widower, you are eligible for survivor benefits. However, you’re not eligible until you turn 60.”

But, Kane said, if you claim benefits at the earliest point, you will get a lesser benefit.

“By waiting to claim until you are 67 (born 1962 or later), you will receive the full benefit,” she said. “If you’re eligible for your own Social Security benefit, then you have the ability to decide when to claim either your benefit or the survivor benefits from your wife.”

If you have the higher benefit, then you would want to wait as long as possible to let your benefit grow, Kane said. If you wait past your full retirement age (67 if born 1962 or later), you can increase your benefits by 8% per year. Wait until you’re 70, and your benefits will max out at 24% higher than at your full retirement age. If you can afford it, it is worth the wait, she said.

But if your spouse has the higher benefit, you may want to claim yours and then switch over to her benefit when you turn 67, she said.

It is important to talk to a representative at Social Security before you claim benefits to understand your options.

Also note that if you remarry before you turn 60, you’ll give up your right to widower benefits.

“It is wonderful to fall in love, but if you do, there is a financial benefit to waiting,” Kane said.

The Social Security Administration also should have given you a one time check for $255. By the size of the check, you can tell that it isn’t indexed for inflation, Kane said.

Social Security is complicated and it is always good to set up an appointment to better understand your benefits.

Email your questions to .

This story was originally published on Feb. 8, 2021. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.