Survivor's Benefits for widows_widowers and surviving divorced spouse

Survivor’s Benefit for Widow/Widowers and Surviving Divorced Spouse

Many older adults rely on Survivor’s benefits for widows/widowers or surviving divorced spouses as their primary source of income in the later years.

Funding Source

Survivor’s benefits for widows/widowers and surviving divorced spouses are paid by the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund.  Funds are collected through employer and employee contributions, commonly known as “FICA taxes” “payroll taxes” or “Social Security taxes”.  Funds are allocated to this Fund and the Disability Insurance Fund and that allocation is set by law.  Over the years, Congress has changed this allocation to account to assure continued solvency of either fund.

In 2012, individuals pay 4.2% of their earnings up to $110,100 and employers pay 6.2% of the individual income up to the same amount.  The 2% differential, known as the “payroll tax holiday”, is set to expire after 2011 and individuals will pay 6.2% again. In 2012, self-employed individuals pay 10.4% of their earnings, down 2% as well.  The “payroll tax holiday” is currently being funded by general revenues.


  • Widow or Widower of spouse who died after having worked and earned enough credits or
  • Surviving Divorced Spouse (10 years of marriage with no re-marriage that continues before age 60) of worker who earned enough credits; and
  • Age 60 or Older, but will receive less before full retirement age.

How Benefit Amount is Calculated

A widow or widower at full retirement age will receive 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount.  A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives only 71-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit.  The maximum family benefit is generally between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount.