When can I get Social Security on my wife’s account?


Q. I’m 50 and my wife is 52. She just got a bad cancer diagnosis. We want to know how soon I could get Social Security on her account after she dies? She has a bigger benefit because she always earned more than me.
— Worried all around

A. We’re sorry to hear about your wife’s health diagnosis.

Generally, the earliest a widow or widower can claim survivor benefits from Social Security is at age 60.

Those benefits would be at a reduced rate versus the benefit that would be received if you waited until full retirement age, said Debra Ohstrom, a chartered financial analyst and financial educator.

If a survivor is already disabled, then they could be eligible to receive benefits as soon as age 50, she said.

Ohstrom said the amount of the benefit is based on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased and the age of the survivor when making a claim to start benefits.

“Usually, the payout starts around 72% of the full benefit amount when the survivor starts receiving benefits at 60 years of age,” she said. “The percentage goes up as the survivor waits every year closer until full retirement to start receiving full benefits.”

The other factor to keep in mind is that there are limits on earnings a person can make while receiving Social Security benefits, she said.

“If you receive benefits before full retirement age, the maximum earnings in 2021 is $18,960. If someone waits until full retirement age, the allowable earnings go up dramatically and is currently $50,520,” she said. “When a benefit recipient earns more than the listed amounts, the Social Security benefits paid to them may be reduced.”

When Social Security looks at a person’s earnings, Ohstrom said, it only counts wages you make from your job or your net profit if you’re self-employed. They do include bonuses, commissions, and vacation pay, she said. Social Security doesn’t look at pension earnings, investment earnings, interest or other government or military retirement benefits, she said.

Finally, if you have children under the age of 18, they may also qualify to receive benefits, she said.

You can contact Social Security directly to see what your estimated benefits may be under different scenarios.

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This story was originally published on Oct. 14, 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.