Collecting A Deceased Spouse’s Social Security Benefits

In 2010, a disturbing discovery was made in Sun City Center in Hillsborough County. After an 86-year-old man passed away, a neighbor went to his home to get his things in order. Instead, they found a body hidden inside a freezer on the man’s porch. Inside were the remains of his wife, who likely died of natural causes around 2002. To continue receiving her Social Security benefits, the husband kept her death a secret, telling neighbors his wife was living in a nursing home.

While this situation is gruesome, it raises some important questions about Social Security benefits. When a spouse dies, what is the survivor supposed to do? Can they legally collect the benefits of a dead spouse?

It is possible for a widow or widower to receive their spouse’s benefits after their death. The amount of benefits they receive depends on three main factors:

  • Whether the deceased spouse had begun to collect benefits prior to their death
  • The time at which the deceased spouse first began to collect their Social Security benefits
  • The age of the surviving spouse when they begin to collect survivor’s benefits

The Role of Retirement Age

If the deceased spouse was already receiving benefits at the time of their death, their survivor receives the same amount. If they were of retirement age, but had yet to sign up for Social Security benefits at the time of their death, their spouse generally receives the amount the deceased worker would have received at the time of their death.

The third factor — the age of the surviving spouse — is the most important. If the surviving spouse waits until they reach full retirement age, they will be able to claim 100% of their deceased spouse’s Social Security Benefits. If they begin to collect before this time, they will only receive a reduced amount. When the surviving spouse has a child who is under the age of 16 or disabled, they can begin collecting benefits at any time. In this case, they will receive about 75% of the deceased’s benefits.

If the surviving spouse decides to collect benefits before full retirement age, they can switch to their own benefits once they reach retirement age, if those benefits would be higher. They cannot receive their own benefits and their deceased spouse’s benefits at the same time. However, they do have the option of choosing which they would like to receive.

What About Ex-Spouses?

It is even possible to collect the Social Security benefits of a deceased ex-spouse. If a marriage lasted at least 10 years, the surviving spouse has not remarried, and the surviving spouse is over the age of 60, they can receive benefits.

Social Security benefits are already a complicated process, and the death of a spouse makes the process even trickier. While this process may seem ripe for murder, secrecy, and other devious behavior, the ability to receive a deceased spouse’s Social Security benefits is still vital, as it allows surviving spouse to continue to live comfortable lives.


The attorneys at Perenich, Caulfield, Avril & Noyes represent those involved in car accidents, motorcycle accidents, bicycle accidents, pedestrian accidents, and other types of personal injury matters. Our firm is one of the oldest personal injury law firms in Tampa Bay. There are no attorneys’ fees or costs unless we prevail for you. Call our office 24 hours a day at 727-796-8282 or simply click here to schedule a free case consultation.

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