Will working decrease my spousal survivor benefit?

Working before retirement age may lower your SSDI-based widow's benefits.

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Gavel and Scales

Can you work and receive a spouse's survivors benefits based on your deceased spouse's SSDI disability benefits? The simple answer to this question is: It depends. It depends on how old you are and how much you are earning at your job. Below are the answers to some of the most common questions regarding work and the effects on survivors benefits.

How much can I earn working without it affecting my survivors benefits?

How much you can work without your survivor benefits being reduced depends on your age. If you have reached full retirement age, there is no annual limit on the amount of money you can earn from working.

If you are not going to reach full retirement age within the year, you can only earn up to $15,720 (in 2015) before it starts to affect your survivors benefits.

How much will my survivors benefits be reduced based on my age and work earnings?

If you are not going to reach full retirement age within the year, Social Security will reduce your benefit payment by half of the amount you earn over the annual limit.

If you are going to reach full retirement age within the year, Social Security will reduce your benefit payment by one-third of the amount you earn over the annual limit.

What income is included in the annual limit?

For those who are working for an employer, wages only are counted as income. For those who are self-employed, profits only from the business are counted as income.

Income from other areas, such as other government benefits, money made through investments, earned interest, and pension payments are not included in the annual limit.

Is it worth it to work? Will I get those benefits back that I have lost due to working?

Generally, your benefits are not lost when Social Security decreases the amount you receive due to work. The money that you are not receiving will be added to your benefit when you reach your full retirement age.

However, a key distinction from this general rule is if you are receiving benefits as a survivor because you are caring for a minor or disabled child. In those cases, the benefit lost due to work will not be added on to your benefit when you reach full retirement age. In essence, those benefits will be lost.

Does the work limitation apply only to surviving spouses or can it affect anyone who is receiving survivors benefits, including children and dependent parents?

The work limitation can be applied to any individual who is receiving survivors benefits. While it is less likely that a child who is enrolled in school full time will exceed the annual limit, it is possible that an elderly parent who is not of full retirement age might. It is important to remember that these benefits are not lost, but rather delayed until you reach full retirement age.

If I work, will it reduce the survivors benefit received by other members in my family, like my minor children?

No, the effect that working has on benefits is only on the benefits of the person who is actually working. It will have no effect on the benefits received by other family members.

Learn more about survivors benefits for spouses and survivors benefits for divorced spouses, including the eligibility requirements.