What Is a Widow's Pension?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Nancy Fann-Im
  • Last Modified Date: 24 August 2019
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A widow's pension is a form of income provided to support a widow after the death of her husband; widower's pensions are also available. These payments come from the government to qualifying beneficiaries, and the government can fund them in a variety of ways. A widow will no longer be eligible if she remarries. It may be possible to claim benefits for surviving children as well, as long as they are under a certain age.

Widow's pensions provide a way for surviving spouses to support themselves after losing a family member. In a single income household, this can be critical, especially if the widow's husband did not make prior arrangements to care for his family before his death. Even in households with two incomes, the loss of one can be a devastating blow. The widow's pension provides some monetary support, although it does not come with any benefits the widow may have received while her husband was alive, such as access to health care through an employee health plan.


Surviving spouses of public employees, including postal workers, service members, and police officers, may be eligible for a widow's pension. Usually there are some service requirements. The deceased must have worked a set number of months or years before his spouse can legally claim benefits. A benefits office can provide information about the benefits available to surviving family members based on the government agency and the length of time in service. The circumstances of service are also important; spouses of service members, for example, qualify very quickly when their partners serve during wartime, while in peace, they need to serve a full term of enlistment.

The amount of money available through a widow's pension can vary. Agencies set specific amounts based on costs of living, the husband's base income, and other parameters. It can take some time for pension payments to kick in. This should be a consideration in estate planning. Partners should make sure they leave enough for surviving family to live on for at least a month before benefit payments start to roll in, and should consider what will happen if there is any kind of delay on the payments.

To prove eligibility for a widow's pension, it is usually necessary to provide documentation about the death and the window's single status. Agencies may also ask for income documentation, as widows making too much money may not qualify, since the goal is to provide assistance with the costs of living, not to supplement an adequate income.


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