Social Security benefits application form © iStock

Dear Dr. Don,
My husband of 13 years died in 2006. He was already collecting Social Security at the time. After I got my senses together, I checked to see when I could get spousal benefits from his Social Security. I was informed that due to my age — I was 20 years his junior — I could not receive a Social Security survivors benefit until I hit the age of 52. At 52, I went and asked again and was told not until I turned 55. So, really, at what age can I collect on his benefits? Thanks.
— Terry Turndown

Dear Dr. Don,
My husband has passed away. He was 67 when he died. I was told that when I turned 60, I’d be eligible for a survivors benefit based on my husband’s Social Security work record. Is that true?
— Marie Materialize

Dear Terry and Marie,
First, I want to tell you that I am sorry for the losses suffered by you and your families. Furthermore, I appreciate that you are sharing your stories with me so we can try to help you and others in similar situations.

When benefits can begin

Survivors benefits for a widowed spouse can start as early as age 60. But you won’t get the full benefit unless you took them after your full retirement date, which would be somewhere between the ages of 65 and 67.

Checks begin before 60?

There are also some special cases in which people receive survivors benefits before they turn 60. For example, they could be disabled, and that disability started before, or within seven years of, their spouse’s death. Or they could be caring for a child with a disability or a child who’s under age 16.

The question of disability

Neither of you mentioned a disability, so the disability provisions shouldn’t be relevant to your cases. If your husbands filed for benefits before their full retirement ages, then they received reduced benefits because of it. Your benefits will be based on their own reduced benefits.

Thanks to Edward Lafferty, spokesman for the Social Security Administration, for helping me with this reply.

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