SSA logo: link to Social Security Online home402. Widow(er) Defined

402.1 What is the definition of a widow(er) for Social Security purposes?

You are considered a widow(er) of the insured worker for Social Security purposes if:

  1. Under applicable law, if at the time the insured worker died:

    1. You and the insured worker were validly married1; or

    2. You would have the status of widow(er) with respect to the distribution of intestate personal property;

  2. You entered into a ceremonial marriage with the insured worker that was invalid under the law, provided that:

    1. You married the insured worker in good faith, not knowing of any impediment to the marriage;

    2. You were living with the insured worker in the same household at the time of his or her death;

      NOTE: This statement does not apply if you are divorced or if you were receiving spouse's benefits at the time of the insured worker's death.

    3. For periods prior to January 1991, there is no other person who is or was entitled to monthly insurance benefits on the insured worker's earnings record and still has the status as a legal widow(er); and

    4. The invalid marriage resulted from either (1) a prior marriage or its dissolution; or (2) a defect in the procedure followed in connection with your marriage.

402.2 What does under applicable law mean?

Applicable law is either:

  1. The law applied by the courts of the State where the insured worker lived at the time he or she died; or

  2. The law applied by the District of Columbia if the insured worker was not living in any State at the time of his or her death.

See §402.1 A. footnote.


1Under Federal law an individual whose claim for benefits is based on a State recognized same-sex marriage or having the same status as spouse for State inheritance purposes cannot meet the statutory gender-based definition of widow or widower of the worker, including one who is divorced. Therefore, for all benefit purposes, the Social Security Administration does not recognize such individual as the widow or widower of the deceased worker.

Last Revised: Sep. 1, 2009