A widow can receive Social Security benefits based on her earnings or the earnings of a deceased spouse at age 50, if she is disabled. A widow raising children aged 16 and below from a deceased spouse can receive survivors' benefits irrespective of her age, if she is unmarried.
Benefits issued before age 60 may be reduced because the survivor has not reached "full retirement age." A widow can increase the amount of benefits received by delaying filing for Social Security beyond her full retirement age up to age 70. To receive survivors' benefits based on an ex-husband's earnings, a widow must be unmarried at present and must have been married to the deceased for at least 10 years. In such a case, a widow may be entitled to receive 100 percent of the deceased's Social Security benefits. To receive such benefits, the deceased spouse must have been eligible for such benefits.
Social Security benefits are not automatic; a widow must apply in order to start receiving such benefits. A widow who earns substantial income from other sources may have to pay taxes on Social Security benefits. A person who delays applying for Social Security benefits beyond retirement age must apply for Medicare benefits before age 65 or risk being penalized. Years spent taking care of a family are not eligible for Social Security benefits, as of 2014.