A widow’s allowance is any money or personal property a widow or widower receives after the death of a spouse while the deceased spouse’s estate is in probate. It's designed to minimize financial hardship of the surviving spouse while the estate is processed.
An appraiser sets aside an allowance for the spouse and children who depended on the deceased person to support them. Learn how state laws set the terms for widow’s allowances, how they work, and how a surviving spouse can receive them.
Definition and Example of a Widow’s Allowance
A widow’s allowance is any money or property a widow or widower receives after the death of a spouse to support them during the probate process. That way, the family has the money they need to meet their daily financial obligations.
For example, in Mississippi, state law dictates that a surviving spouse who was dependent on the deceased is entitled to a year’s support for the family. The duty falls on the appraiser of the estate to set apart a year’s provisions for the surviving spouse and children.
Widow’s pension, or survivors benefits, are not the same as a widow’s allowance. A widow’s pension refers to payments made regularly to the deceased member's family, such as monthly Social Security payments.
How Does a Widow’s Allowance Work?
Probate is a formal legal process that recognizes someone’s will so that their assets can be transferred to their beneficiaries. The administration process, including the accounting of assets by an executor, can be lengthy, depending in part on state laws.
When a spouse dies, the surviving widow or widower who may have depended on them financially is left with bills and other financial obligations. And they won’t have access to funds during probate. That’s why states set provisions for an allowance that is designed to protect the surviving spouse from financial hardship as a result of immediate expenses.
A widow’s allowance works by providing a surviving spouse with the money or personal property to support themself and any dependent children. A portion of the deceased person’s estate is set aside for that reason.
If you want to have a say as to who inherits your assets after you die, it’s important to have a will in place. Without a will, the court will determine who receives your assets according to state laws.
Alternatives to a Widow’s Allowance
If you are preparing an estate plan for your dependent family members, one way to provide for them faster is to take steps to avoid the lengthy probate process. For example, benefits from a life insurance policy with an assigned beneficiary do not go through probate. The payout goes directly to the beneficiary and is not included as part of the estate.
You can also establish a living trust to avoid the probate process. Assets in a living trust are controlled by the trustee and they are not included in your estate.
In addition to a widow’s allowance, a widow is entitled to receive a portion of the surviving spouse’s Social Security benefits. To qualify for monthly Social Security spousal death benefits, you must be 60 years or older or 50 years or older if you have a disability. You can receive Social Security benefits from the deceased spouse at any age if you are caring for their child who is under 16 or who has a disability.
When you apply for survivor’s benefits, the Social Security Administration will ask for a lot of information, so consider preparing your paperwork ahead of time. You’ll need your birth certificate, proof of your spouse’s death, your marriage certificate, and proof of U.S. citizenship to apply.
You cannot receive both your own Social Security benefits and a deceased spouse’s benefits. If you’re eligible for both, you may want to figure out which is larger between the two and which is the most beneficial for you long-term.
- A widow’s allowance is the money or property a widow receives after the death of a spouse to help cover immediate expenses.
- A widow’s allowance is designed to protect the surviving family from financial hardship during the probate process.
- A spouse of a deceased person may be eligible to receive a portion of their Social Security benefits.
- Establishing a trust or naming beneficiaries on a life insurance policy can help avoid the lengthy probate process and get your assets to your beneficiaries faster.