Retirement Benefits


If we are married, we don’t know which one of us will die first.   What we need to know is when the first spouse dies, what happens to the retirement benefits he or she was receiving.

What happens to Social Security benefits?

What happens to pensions provided by a former employer?

What happens to military pensions?

Q.  What if both spouses are receiving social security retirement checks and one spouse dies?

A. If the decedent and his or her surviving spouse both worked and are both receiving social security retirement benefits, one check stops when the first spouse dies.  The surviving spouse is eligible to continue to receive the retirement check paying the higher benefit.

Q. If the decedent was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) checks, do any benefits continue for the decedent’s survivors?

A. If the deceased was receiving SSDI benefits, SSDI stops at the time of death because the benefits are based on the needs of the individual and are only paid to the qualifying person.

Although SSDI does not provide survivor benefits, the executor or next of kin should check with the SSA office to see if the surviving spouse or minor children are eligible for other SSA survivor benefits.


Q. What happens when the person eligible to receive a pension from a former employer dies?

A. If the deceased had vested rights to a pension, the right of the surviving spouse to a survivor’s pensions are also vested in the event of death.  The surviving spouse will collect a survivor’s pension unless the surviving spouse gave a written waiver to receive survivor’s benefits.

If the deceased spouse is retired and currently receiving pension benefits, the surviving spouse is usually entitled to continue to receive retirement benefits.

The estate representative or the surviving spouse should notify HR and change the name on the pension check to the surviving spouse.


Q.  What happens when the retirement check is based upon service in the military?

A. When a service member starts receiving military retirement benefits, the person serving in the military will be automatically enrolled in an insurance program known as the Survivor Benefit Plan.  The insurance premium is automatically deducted from the retirement check and can be set up to pay retirement benefits to a surviving spouse or minor children.

A service member must have written permission from his or her spouse to not participate in the Survivor Benefit Plan program.

If the survivor benefits insurance is being paid, a surviving spouse, or the minor children can continue to receive a portion of the pension.

If the insurance was not purchased, the pension stops upon the death of the person entitled to a military benefit.


3 thoughts on “Retirement Benefits

  1. Chris

    What happens to military pension percentage paid to former spouse due to divorce and the former spouse dies before the retired active duty member?

  2. Wilbert Stallings

    Hello to the Die Smart Team or whom it may concern. My deceased wife had worked for the State Of North Carolina for 16yrs. I had received her pension (contributions) pay in a lump sum payment of what i had requested. This benefit was paid from the North Carolina Department of State Treasury.Question.My deceased wife had worked jobs from her earlier years in life. I cannot get with her previous employers due to the majority of them that had went out of business. How can i collect her pension earnings that were reported from her previous employers. The State Of North Carolina was her last employer before she had died in April of 2011.

    1. Minna Vallentine

      Unfortunately, if the companies for whom your wife worked are out of business, there’s very little chance of your collecting any pensions from them. However, If your wife paid Social Security while working for those companies, you may be able to collect Social Security survivor benefits. You’ll need to check with your local Social Security office to find out.

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