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Widow(er) Defined

Excerpted from "Social Security Handbook". See the up-to-date, official Social Security Handbook at


402. Widow(er) Defined

402.1 What is the definition of a "widow(er)" for Social Security purposes?

You are considered a widow(er) of the insured person for Social Security purposes if:

  1. Under applicable law, if at the time the insured person died:

    1. You and the insured person were validly married; or

    2. You would have the status of widow(er) with respect to the distribution of intestate personal property;

  2. You entered into a ceremonial marriage with the insured person that was invalid under the law, provided that:

    1. You married the insured person in good faith, not knowing of any impediment to the marriage;

    2. You were living with the insured person in the same household at the time of his or her death;

      NOTE: This statement does not apply if you are divorced or if you were receiving spouse's benefits at the time of the insured person's death.

    3. For periods prior to January 1991, there is no other person who is or was entitled to monthly insurance benefits on the insured person's earnings record and still has the status as a legal widow(er); and

    4. The invalid marriage resulted from either (1) a prior marriage or its dissolution; or (2) a defect in the procedure followed in connection with your marriage.

402.2 What does under "applicable law" mean?

Applicable law is either:

  1. The law applied by the courts of the State where the insured person lived at the time he or she died; or

  2. The law applied by the District of Columbia if the insured person was not living in any State at the time of his or her death.

Last Revised: Jun. 7, 2005

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