Spousal benefits under Social Security help protect both husband and wives from the loss of income associated with the death of the main earner in a family unit and provide non-earning spouses with a retirement income. Some benefits begin immediately after marriage, while others require a waiting period of at least nine months.
Several circumstances let a widow or widowed spouse immediately claim benefits; however, many of the situations outlined by Social Security are unique. The most common method of gaining immediate access to the spouse's benefits comes with sharing a child with your spouse prior to marriage. The child can be biological, adopted by both parents or the biological child of one parent and the adopted child of the other. Spouses of servicemen who died in active duty and the spouses of people who die an accidental death also immediately qualify for benefits.
If you have a minor child with an earning spouse who dies, you may collect a spousal benefit until the minor child is age 16. At the same time, the child also collects a benefit until he reaches the age of 18, or 19 if he is still in twelfth grade. When there is no minor child, you must wait until age 60 to collect a minimum retirement benefit as a widow or widower. To maximize the benefit amount, wait and collect when you reach the full retirement age Social Security dictates based on your birth year. To receive the widow or widower benefit on a deceased spouse, you cannot remarry until after age 60.
If both you and your spouse live to retirement age and have been married at least nine months, you can collect early benefits on your spouse's record starting at age 62. The benefit for a husband or wife collecting Social Security on a spouse's record is not equal to the full benefit the earner would receive. Instead, the amount you will receive is a percentage of the earner's benefits. The longer you wait to collect the benefits, the higher the percentage. For example, if you start to collect at age 62, the Social Security Administration estimates you will receive only 32.5 percent of your spouse's benefits. If you wait until age 65, this increases to 50 percent, the highest spousal benefit offered. The earning spouse will still receive 100 percent of his Social Security benefits.
If your spouse is eligible for Medicare, you may also opt into the program at age 65 based on his record. You may also opt in at age 65 if you are receiving Social Security payments, including spousal benefits.