TN 34 (09-23)

RS 00207.006 Widow(er)’s Benefits – Entitlement Development

A. Procedure – Field Office (FO) action where spouse is entitled

1. Spouse Full Retirement Age (FRA) or older

Follow these instructions in conjunction with GN 02602.050 when a claimant FRA or over is entitled to spouse's benefits (including divorced spouse's benefits) and the FO receives notice of the number holder’s (NH's) death from a source other than the program center (PC).

  • Follow MS 00705.018 for completing the appropriate screen to collect information about the number holder’s death;

  • Code the EVID screen if required per instructions in GN 00301.286C;

  • Do not prepare an award;

  • Complete any additional necessary development.

Development may include:

  • additional wages or self employment income (SEI) for a survivor's recomputation (see RS 00605.501);

  • proof of living in the same household (LISH) when necessary. See RS 00210.005;

  • an annual report (see RS 02510.015);

  • substitution of a representative payee (see GN 00502.100 and GN 00504.110).

2. Spouse under FRA

When a spouse is entitled because they had a child-in-care, follow the conversion instructions in RS 00208.090. When a claimant age 62 through the month before FRA is entitled to reduced spouse's benefits, and also entitled to a retirement insurance benefit (RIB) or disability insurance benefit (DIB), a Certificate of Election is necessary in order to qualify for reduced widow(er)'s benefits (RS 00207.005 and RS 00207.025). If the claimant wishes to file for reduced widow(er)'s benefits, take a Certificate of Election and complete the development required in RS 00207.025.

REMINDER: If the system is unable to convert auxiliaries to survivor’s benefits, a manual action must be taken.

B. Procedure – widow(er) married to NH less than 9 months

Develop prior or potential entitlement to Social Security benefits where the widow(er) was married to the NH for less than 9 months and does not meet any of the other requirements in RS 00207.001.

Secure proof of all pertinent factors of entitlement for such benefits (see RS 00207.001B.2.) where the widow(er) alleges prior or potential entitlement as a divorced spouse or surviving divorced spouse.

C. Procedure – Railroad Retirement (RR) employment involved

When a claimant age 62 or over is entitled to spouse's benefits and the FO receives notice of the NH's death from other than the PC, if it appears that RR employment is involved, the FO will:

  • Follow instructions in GN 02602.050;

  • Follow MS 00705.018 for completing the appropriate screen to collect information about the number holder’s death;

  • Complete the EVID screen if required per instructions in GN 00301.286C;

  • If it appears that the deceased NH is vested under the RRB, instruct the surviving claimant to contact the nearest RRB field office to inquire about filing for RRB survivor benefits;

  • Tell the claimant there may be a slight delay in the adjudication of the claim because the spouse's RR and Social Security earnings records (ER's) must be combined to determine the amount of the benefits since the law prevents anyone from receiving survivor benefits under both programs.

An RRB survivor jurisdiction determination is needed in order to pay survivor benefits. RRB notifies SSA when a widow(er) of an RR employee elects the residual lump sum and the deceased RR employee had one or more quarters under SSA. If a survivor is entitled to a lump sum death payment (LSDP) or survivor’s monthly annuity under the RRA, SSA will not pay the LSDP or survivor benefit to any person based on the NH's account. It is important that the widow(er) not expect to receive the checks immediately nor expect to receive survivor benefits from both agencies. For further discussion of RR residual payments, see RS 01602.225.

NOTE: The FO should not develop the RR employment. Development will be necessary before processing conversions when the deceased number holder (NH) had at least 120 months of railroad service or had at least 60 months of RR service after 1995. See instructions in RS 01602.200 through RS 01602.202.

Follow the instructions in RS 01602.200 where it is necessary to establish entitlement or potential entitlement to a widow(er)'s, annuity under the Railroad Retirement Act (RRA).

D. Procedure – validity of divorce or marriage for a surviving divorced spouse

Follow GN 00305.170 to determine when the validity of divorce or marriage should be questioned and evidence required.

1. Divorce

While the divorce decree, a certified copy, or an abstract certification, is always required, generally the validity of the divorce need not be questioned. However, if the surviving divorced spouse has remarried after the divorce from the insured, and then divorces again from a subsequent marriage, the validity of the second divorce can be a factor in determining entitlement (see SSR 88-15c, RS 00207.006E).

2. Marriage

A divorce suggests that the terminated marriage was a valid one. See EXCEPTION in RS 00207.006D.2. in this section. Thus, proof of the divorce also constitutes evidence of the validity of the surviving divorced spouse’s marriage to the NH.

However, proof of the validity of the marriage is required when:

  • Development is necessary to establish the validity of the claimant's divorce from the NH. See EXCEPTION in RS 00207.006D.2. in this section; or

  • Information in the divorce decree, etc., raises a reasonable doubt of the validity of the marriage.

NOTE: For entitlement 1/91 or later, a deemed marriage satisfies the 10-year duration of marriage requirement for divorced spouses.

EXCEPTION: If the divorce decree contains sufficient information to determine that the marriage lasted at least 10 years, no other proof of marriage is required unless there is reason to doubt the decree. If doubt is raised, obtain proof of marriage. (See policy in GN 00305.020 - GN 00305.030.)

E. Procedure – person applying for widow(er)’s benefits remarries

If a person applying for entitlement to widow(er)'s benefits has remarried, include the later marriage in the Beneficiary Marriage (BMAR) screen per MS 00705.007 on Modernized Claims System (MCS) or Electronic Form 101 (EF101):

  • Consider possible entitlement on the later spouse's ER. If a claim was filed on the later spouse's ER, it will not be necessary to resubmit any evidence already included with that claim. The FO or PC will cross-refer the appropriate SSN for verification.

If the later marriage is one which would preclude entitlement and the claimant alleges the marriage has ended, obtain proof of termination (death certificate or copy of divorce or annulment decree).

NOTE: If there is more than one such marriage, only proof of termination of the last marriage is required. If the later marriage is one which would not preclude entitlement (e.g., it occurred after the claimant attained age 60) and the claimant alleges that the marriage has ended, accept the claimant's allegation.

If the marriage is still in effect, obtain proof of the marriage to establish that it occurred after the required age (and after onset of disability or entitlement to disabled widow(er)'s benefits, if either requirement is applicable). (See GN 00305.020 through GN 00305.030.)

For related policy, see RS 00207.003A.

F. Procedure – widow(er) is estranged spouse

Obtain a statement from the widow(er) whether they ever:

  • obtained a divorce from the NH, or

  • was served with a notice of a divorce proceeding, or

  • was notified that the NH was trying to get a divorce.

Further development that the widow(er)'s marriage continued until the NH died is not necessary if there is no evidence to the contrary.

If after the separation the widow(er) or the NH lived with another person and they were known as a married couple, verify that the marriage between the widow(er) and NH was not terminated.

  • Secure statements from relatives or other persons who knew about the parties' marital status and their places of residence following the separation.

  • Fully develop any indication that the widow(er) and the NH were divorced or remarried.

  • If the evidence is not sufficient for a determination, inform the widow(er) that they must submit statements from the appropriate clerks of court that there is no record of a divorce. As explained in GN 00305.040, these statements must cover all places of their residence and all known places of the NH's residence during the separation.

G. Procedure - claimant does not know if worker is deceased

If the claimant does not know whether the NH is living or dead, complete a Form SSA-10-BK (Application for Widow's or Widow(er)'s Insurance Benefits) or in the claims path in Modernized Claims System (MCS).

If MCS, MBR or PCACS does not show a prior claims action and proof of death is not submitted:

  • Disallow the claim using MCS EC, and code 29, “Death of NH not established,” as the reason for disallowance for documentation.

In contacts with the applicant, be careful not to disclose information as to the NH's whereabouts or any other confidential information. If it is established that the NH is dead, apply the rules in GN 03315.000. If the NH's death is not established, disclose only the information permitted by GN 03315.000. Do not disclose the NH's SSN or use it in communicating with the applicant before they receive notice of final disposition of the claim unless the applicant furnished the correct SSN when inquiring about benefits.

H. References

GN 00304.100, Use of Numident Death Data

RS 00207.003, How Marriage Affects Widow(er)’s Benefits

RS 01602.005, Overview of Processing Claims with Railroad Earnings

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RS 00207.006 - Widow(er)’s Benefits – Entitlement Development - 09/08/2023
Batch run: 09/08/2023