Skip to main content

Widow’s Pension: Everything You Need to Know

6 minute read

By WalletGenius Staff

  • Qualifying military members can set up a Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP) upon retirement.
  • The SBP, along with standard Social Security, can be used by a widow to stay financially afloat.
  • Both the deceased veteran and the surviving spouse must meet certain conditions to qualify for a SPB.
  • The payment amount depends on a number of factors, including number of dependents.

One of the primary concerns of the U.S. military is ensuring financial security for service members and their dependents. Lots of benefits and coverages are part and parcel of being a soldier for the U.S. military. A widow’s pension, also known as survivor’s benefit, is one of the more significant veteran affairs benefits.

Due to the nature of service deployment, the U.S. military ensures widows have financial coverage as part of their survivor’s benefits program. However, there are certain terms, conditions, and situations that need to be present for widow’s pension to kick in.

What Are Survivor’s Benefit?

Upon retirement, service veterans are given monthly compensation known as retirement pay. This pay often constitutes about 50 percent of their base pay during active service. When a veteran passes away, their retirement pay naturally stops. That can often mean their dependents are left without a substantial source of income.

During military discharge, service members often take steps to safeguard dependents from this happening. They use a program known as the Survivor’s Benefit Plan (SBP). A SBP is a tax-free benefit to ensure a monthly annuity is given to dependents upon the death of a veteran. It can also be used to provide income at the end of their retirement pay. The annuity, which constitutes a portion of the veteran’s retirement pay, is only paid only to eligible survivors and beneficiaries. Most commonly, that will be spouses and/or children.


Survivor’s Benefit for Widows

Widows are one of the primary beneficiaries of survivor’s benefit. A widow may receive a sizable portion of their deceased spouse’s retirement pay. However, the following determinants need to be met by both the veteran and surviving spouse.

The Veteran

To meet the military service requirement needed to have an SBP, wartime service is mandatory. That means they must have served in some capacity in active combat.

For veterans who served before September 7, 1980, at least 90 days of active service is required. A minimum of one of those days must have been served during a recognized wartime period.

Alternatively, a veteran could qualify for SBP if he enlisted after September 7, 1980 and had active service for at least 24 months. Alternatively, they can qualify by serving the full period of their deployment (with a minimum of one of those days served during a recognized wartime period).

Discharge Requirements

A dishonorable discharge or “other than honorable discharge” is the dismissal of a service member from the military due to immoral or criminal actions. This will disqualify the service member from qualifying for a SBP.

A dishonorable discharge actually strips an officer of just about all the benefits they acquired during their military career — regardless of past achievements or services. It also denies them the privilege of retirement pay and consequently a SBP. This means a survivor will only get a widow’s pension if the veteran was dismissed under honorable circumstances.


The Spouse

There are additional requirements that the surviving spouse must meet, in order to qualify for SBP payments. For starters, the spouse must not be remarried. A surviving spouse only qualifies for a widow’s pension if they remain un-remarried following the death of the veteran.

A SBP aims to ensure financial security for the widow of veteran soldiers. As such, payment of survivor’s benefit is terminated by law if the survivor remarries into a new home. The termination happens regardless of age, and remains even if the remarriage is later terminated by divorce or death.

The Spouse’s Income Is Below a Certain Limit

A surviving spouse is only eligible to collect the maximum amount of widow’s pension (55 percent of the veteran’s retirement pay) if your monthly income is below a certain amount, determined by law. That income includes your base salary, investments, and income from dependents.

The current income limit to be eligible for the maximum survivor’s benefit is $9,344 annually. That amount is for a spouse with no dependent children. The limit rises to $12,229 for a spouse with a dependent child. The amount rises another $2,382 for every additional child.


Survivor’s pension benefit rates are adjusted yearly for inflation and cost of living. A spouse (with no dependents) earning above $9,344 will see their widow’s pension reduced in accordance with the current benefit rates.

A surviving spouse can be disqualified from receiving a widow’s pension altogether if they have a net worth greater than $130,773. You should note that if a married veteran declines a SBP at the time of retirement, they will be unable to cover their spouse (or any future spouse) at a later date.


Social Security Survivor’s Pension

A widow’s pension upon the death of their spouse is often also made up of Social Security benefits, in addition to her SBP. However, a survivor’s pension from Social Security works a little differently than a SBP.

For starters, a widow can only start collecting Social Security benefits after the age of 60 (or 50, in cases of disability). The rate usually ranges from 71.5 percent to 100 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit, depending on the age of the survivor.


The only exception to this rule is if the widow is not re-married and is caring for a child aged 16 or under (or a disabled child). In this case, they qualify for Social Security benefits regardless of the minimum age. They are entitled to at least 75 percent of their deceased spouse’s Social Security payout.

Eligibility for Social Security survivor’s pension ceases for a widow who marries before the age of 60. However, eligibility resumes if the later marriage ends.


Getting Remarried

If you remarry after the age of 60, your marriage will not impact your eligibility for Social Security coverage. You will continue to receive survivor’s pension. However, if you qualify for a pension on your own accord, Social Security will only pay you the higher benefit between yours and that of your deceased spouse. Also, the divorced spouse of a deceased service member receives the same benefits as the widow if they were married for 10 years or more. The benefit given to the divorced spouse won’t affect the amount given to the widow or other survivors.

If the divorced spouse is caring for the legal child of the deceased aged under 16, they will receive survivor’s pension regardless of the length of marriage rule.

How Much Will I Earn in Social Security Coverage?

A widow qualifies for the full amount of the deceased Social Security benefit when she reaches retirement age (usually 70).

Widows between 60 and 70 qualify for 71.5 to 99 percent of the benefit, depending on circumstances. Widows aged 50 to 60 collecting benefits due to disability get 71.5 percent of the benefit. Additionally, widows of any age caring for a child under 16 (or disabled) get 75 percent of the benefit.


The Bottom Line

Survivor’s pensions and benefits are an important part of both Veteran Affairs and Social Security. It ensures the dependents of loyal service members are financially covered in the event of their death. Survivor’s benefits could be the difference between a comfortable life or struggling to get by. Therefore, it’s important that widows (or surviving children) stay on top of their benefit situation. Make sure to apply for both SBP and Social Security coverage, if you are eligible.

WalletGenius Staff


This article was worked on by a number of the WalletGenius staff, including freelancers, full-time writers, and editors.


How Much You Should Spend on an Engagement Ring and What To Look For Wedding Ring Around Rolled Up $100 Dollar Bill Financial Advice

How Much You Should Spend on an Engagement Ring and What To Look For

Spending three months’ worth of salary might be the rule of thumb, but is it necessary? That depends on a variety of factors, including your financial situation and your partner’s style. When it’s time to buy a ring, keep the 4Cs in mind: Cut, Color, Clarity, and Carats. Engagement rings can be marked up 600% […]

Read More about How Much You Should Spend on an Engagement Ring and What To Look For

8 minute read

Is Pinching Pennies The Ultimate Secret To Wealth? Financial Advice

Is Pinching Pennies The Ultimate Secret To Wealth?

I’ve always identified myself as a penny pincher. However, I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m proud of that label. Then again, I’ve never fully shied away from it either. After all, I credit my willingness to scrap and save for giving me courage to jump into the unknown of entrepreneurship when I started, all those years […]

Read More about Is Pinching Pennies The Ultimate Secret To Wealth?

8 minute read

Reducing Debt: Is Your Debt Like a Yo-Yo Diet? Financial Advice

Reducing Debt: Is Your Debt Like a Yo-Yo Diet?

You’ve probably heard the term “yo-yo dieting” before. It’s the problem that many people face when they attempt to lose weight. They will make drastic, unsustainable changes to their exercise and diet plans. The weight drops off, they relax their diet and start skipping gym days, and the weight comes roaring back. Rinse, repeat, ad […]

Read More about Reducing Debt: Is Your Debt Like a Yo-Yo Diet?

9 minute read

Is Thanksgiving Being Taken Over by Consumerism? Financial Advice

Is Thanksgiving Being Taken Over by Consumerism?

One of my favorite holidays is Thanksgiving. It’s one of the simplest of holidays. You can celebrate it without a lot of fuss — and without the need for elaborate décor or expensive presents. Thanksgiving has long been considered a holiday mostly untouched by consumerism. After all, what is less consumer-based than gathering with family […]

Read More about Is Thanksgiving Being Taken Over by Consumerism?

7 minute read

Do You Truly Understand The Impact Of Your Financial Decisions? Financial Advice

Do You Truly Understand The Impact Of Your Financial Decisions?

Too often, we think of our financial decisions as being made in a vacuum. For example, we figure that the investment choices we make only affect us in terms of gains or losses. Or the decision to fund a 529 education account only means your child will have a better chance of making it through […]

Read More about Do You Truly Understand The Impact Of Your Financial Decisions?

7 minute read

Simple (But Not Easy) Tips for Financial Success Financial Advice

Simple (But Not Easy) Tips for Financial Success

Whether it’s through a blunt comment online, a gentle reminder in person, or just by the look on their face, people tell me the same thing all the time. “David,” they say, ” I already know everything you’re saying to me right now. I want to be financially free. I don’t need someone to rehash […]

Read More about Simple (But Not Easy) Tips for Financial Success

6 minute read

Are You Trying to Appear Richer Than You Are? Financial Advice

Are You Trying to Appear Richer Than You Are?

Readers, I need to tell you a story. It’s about a friend of mine, named Sam. I’ve known Sam for decades — since we were high school freshman together, actually. Unfortunately, Sam has never quite learned what it means to “live within your means.” Or, to say in inversely, Sam consistently lives well beyond his […]

Read More about Are You Trying to Appear Richer Than You Are?

8 minute read

See all in Financial Advice