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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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There are 12 Comments

I have been a widow for 27 years.If my husband were alive today he would be 64 this year.What I want to know is can I now draw his S.S.
I am now 60 years and will be 61 in Aug.

Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to a widow or widower -- full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60.

Contact your local Social Security office for details.

My husband has recently died at age 84. Im 55 years old and wife number five, his first wife is deceased. Will I be able to receive his social security benefits

You should verify directly with the SSA, but assuming your husband worked enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, you should be able to receive reduced survivor benefits at age 60. You may qualify for survivor benefits now if you are disabled.

Note the longer you wait (beyond age 60) to receive survivor benefits, the greater your monthly benefit will be. See this page for details :

My husband and I have been married for 3 years now. Recently his ex wife informed me that if he were to die she would receive his death benefits not me his present wife. Is this true?

My husband died Aug 2006. I have been receiving monthly pension but since May 2010 up to now Dec 2010 it stopped. My husband and I resided in our home country since 1995 when he retired from work. I am 88 years of age and worried why my monthly benefit stopped. Please give me some advice.

When you say you "resided in our home country", does that mean you're no longer residing in the US?

If you are a U.S. citizen, you may receive your Social Security payments outside the United States as long as you are eligible for them.

However, there are certain countries to which the SSA is not allowed to send payments.

If you are a citizen of some countries, Social Security payments will keep coming no matter how long you stay outside the United States, as long as you are eligible for the payments.

If you are a citizen of certain other countries, you also may receive your payments as long as you are outside the United States, unless you are receiving your payments as a dependent or survivor. In that case, there are additional requirements you have to meet.

If you still live in the US and are a US citizen, you should contact the SSA regarding the suspension of payments.

if i was recieving survoir benefits then sent to prison ,once im released can they be terminated due to my crime?

Social Security pay benefits under both the Social Security and Supplemental Security Income (SSI) programs. Both of these programs prohibit payments to most prisoners. Social Security benefits are suspended if an otherwise eligible person is confined in a jail, prison, or other penal institution for more than 30 continuous days due to conviction of a crime.

Also, SSA cannot pay benefits to someone who, immediately upon completion of a prison sentence for conviction of a criminal offense (an element of which is sexual activity), is confined by court order in an institution at public expense. The confinement must be based on a court finding that the individual is a sexually dangerous person or sexual predator (or a similar finding.) However, if a person is not confined in prison or other similar place, benefits may be paid to an eligible individual.

My 1st husband died when I was only 20 yrs old.
We were married 3-1/2 yrs.
I received widow's benefits for me and our 3yr old daughter.
Benefits stopped when our daughter turned 18 (mine sooner)
At that time I was told I could receive his benefits again when I reached retirement age.
I was very young & naive so didn't ask any questions at the time.

I did remarry eventually (37yrs ago).
Can I still receive my 1st husband's benefits since I did remarry?
I have lots of medical problems and had 23 surgeries so my work credits won't provide enough money for me to survive on (less than $400 mth now..... about 1/3 of the amount I had received back then!!!).

I am 62 years old right now and we basically survive on my present husband's income alone, which is rough.
I am not capable of working outside of the home, but don't have enough work credits for disability.
It scares me to death what will happen to me if something would happen to him! I have no-one else to help me. We own our home so a, not poverty stricken.

Can I receive deceased 1st hubby's benefits while with present hubby?

Sounds like you remarried at age 57. Based on this, it may be difficult to qualify for survivor benefits based on your marriage to your first husband.

From Social Security :

In general, you cannot receive survivors benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment.

If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on your former spouse's record. When you reach age 62 or older, you may get retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.

The second paragraph ("50 if disabled") indicates a way which you may possibly qualify for survivor benefits based on the first husband.

Although you state you don't qualify for Social Security disability benefits, you may be able to waive the remarriage "penalty" if you were deemed disabled at the time of remarriage.

Please contact Social Security directly for this.

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