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A Widow’s Social Security Journey - AMAC Foundation

The aftermath of losing a spouse is difficult enough, without the stress of dealing with the Social Security Administration when they learn of your spouse’s death. And Social Security does find out – if not from a survivor, they’re usually notified immediately by the funeral director who handles arrangements for the deceased. This is the saga of one widow who recently lost her husband, and her dealings with Social Security to resolve an incorrect initial action by the SSA, as well as to obtain her rightful benefits as her husband’s surviving widow.

Irene and Albert, transplants from America’s mid-west heartland, were living a happy life in semi-retirement, after moving to and enjoying the warm Florida sun while both worked to supplement their Social Security retirement income. Albert provided security services for a local Florida mega retirement community, and Irene worked for a large senior advocacy organization. Regular visits from family members still living in the cold winter mid-west climate served to increase their happiness and comfort as they aged. They were, indeed, living a good life, relatively comfortable in their 70s, with two Social Security incomes as well as their extra earnings from working. But all that was about to change.

Albert had a few healthcare issues, including previous heart problems, but nothing which would cause him to be described as disabled. So, it was somewhat surprising when Albert fell unexpectedly ill in early 2023, requiring hospitalization.  Upon release from the hospital, Albert was admitted as an inpatient to a rehabilitation facility to regain motor skills he had lost during his illness. But, unfortunately, Albert’s health continued to deteriorate over the ensuring months, and he succumbed to his illness on October 23, 2023.

Irene promptly notified Social Security of Albert’s death, which caused the SSA to notify the bank which received Albert’s monthly Social Security payments to return any payments made to Albert’s account subsequent to his death. The bank dutifully complied, but also returned Albert’s September 2023 SS payment, which was received by the bank on October 25, 2023 – a payment which rightfully belonged to Albert (thus now to his widow Irene) because it was Albert’s September benefit. SS rules say that benefits are not paid for the month of death and, thus, they “claw back” any benefit paid after the beneficiary dies. The problem was, in this case, the bank sent back the September payment made on October 25th which rightfully belonged to Albert’s estate. So, Irene was required to submit Form (SSA-1724) to recover Albert’s September Social Security payment.  That form was submitted in early November 2023.

Irene’s journey with Social Security, however, was not yet over. Irene applied for her benefit as a surviving spouse within a few days of Albert’s death, including the onetime lump sum death benefit of $255 she was entitled to as Albert’s widow. After initially requesting her surviving spouse benefits in late October 2023, Irene waited … and waited … and waited – in the meantime collecting only her own regular SS retirement benefit – until she finally received a letter from Social Security in February 2024 asking her to submit an official copy of their Marriage Certificate. After obtaining an official copy (at additional expense) through, Irene promptly delivered the requested document to Social Security. And waited, yet again.

Irene’s personal SS retirement benefit arrived as usual on March13th, with still no indication of when her survivor benefits would be paid. But then, in late-March,  an extra payment from Social Security arrived in Irene’s bank account, reimbursement of the incorrect “claw back” and back-money Irene was due for her widow’s benefit. That payment was followed in very early April 2024 by a notice that Irene’s survivor benefit would start on April 10th. And, finally, it did. So, Irene has now, finally – after nearly six months – received back the September benefit incorrectly withheld and is also collecting her monthly benefit as Albert’s widow. Irene’s new amount is larger than her own monthly SS retirement benefit (Irene gets the higher of two benefits – her own, or the amount Albert was receiving at his death). But why did it take so long?

The Social Security Administration has been under pressure for many years to be more fiscally efficient, with government budgets in some years requiring a reduction in SSA’s operating costs or providing only minor budget increases. Government efficiency is clearly an admirable goal which the agency has valiantly strived to achieve by offering enhanced online services. But one unexpected aftermath of the pandemic was the retirement of many more experienced SSA employees, and the agency still struggles with on-boarding replacements. In an attempt to get replacements functional quickly, training has been streamlined, perhaps overly so, resulting in a decline of worker efficiency and effectiveness.  All of which contributed to this widow’s nearly six month journey to obtain her rightful benefits.  Which begs the question: Is it fair that a financially stressed widow suffers because of Social Security’s apparent inability to process a survivor’s benefit in a timely manner?

Throughout Irene’s six month journey, she was assisted by the AMAC Foundation’s free Social Security Advisory Service, which is available to the general public to assist with understanding Social Security’s myriad rules and regulations, and to provide guidance on the steps needed to get all benefits a beneficiary is entitled to. Call 1.888.750.2622, or email questions to [email protected].

This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website ( or email us at [email protected]. 

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