Dear Penny: I’m Twice-Widowed. Which Husband Do I Get Benefits From?

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Dear Penny,

I'm a 69-year-old woman who is retired. My husband recently passed away, and received disability payments of $1,065 a month. My first husband died in 1980, and he had paid into Social Security the maximum amount for the year not long before he died. My question is which husband do I get benefits from?

— Twice Widowed

Dear Widowed,

I’m sorry for your loss. I hope you’ll find these benefits simple enough to navigate so you can continue to support yourself going forward.

Social Security payments and Social Security Disability (SSDI) payments are fairly straightforward for the spouse of someone who’s died.

Assuming you remarried before you were 60 years old (or 50 if you’re disabled), you’re not eligible to receive benefits from your first husband’s account. But you are eligible for benefits from your second husband’s account. (If you remarried after the age cutoff, you’re eligible for either benefits and can choose which to claim.)

Dear Penny

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As a surviving spouse, you could receive a one-time payment of $255 called a death benefit, and you can receive survivor’s benefits from your second husband’s account. Because you’ve reached full retirement age, you can receive the full monthly amount your husband was receiving from SSDI before he died.

However, you’re also eligible to draw your own retirement benefits if you worked and paid into Social Security yourself. Retirees can start claiming benefits as early as age 62, though the monthly benefit you can claim is higher the longer you wait to start, maxing out at age 70.

You get to choose among the benefits you’re eligible for to get the highest monthly amount. So if your survivor’s benefit payment is higher than the payment you could claim now or when you turn 70, you can continue to claim that. If your own retirement benefit is higher, you can claim that one instead.

Note that you’ll still be eligible for your survivor’s benefit if you remarry in the future; you’d also be eligible for a spousal benefit if your new spouse received benefits, and that would give you another option to choose from to get the largest monthly amount.

Dana Miranda is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance®, author, speaker and personal finance journalist. She writes Healthy Rich, a newsletter about how capitalism impacts the ways we think, teach and talk about money.