Can I inherit state pension from either of my two late wives?


I am 81 years old and I receive the old style state pension.

My first wife died in 2003 at 59 years old and sadly this was a few months before her 60th birthday and the point she would then have been able to claim her state pension.

I recall she was expecting a reduced pension as she had paid lower National Insurance ‘stamp’ when we first married.

Retirement finances: I’ve sadly been widowed twice but never inherited any state pension from my late wives (Stock image)

I wondered if I was (or would still be) eligible to inherit any of my late wife’s state pension given that she did not receive any payment prior to her death?

I went on to marry again in 2020 but sadly my wife died a few months later at the age of 77. She was also in receipt of an old style state pension.

I also wonder if I should have been eligible to inherit any of my second wife’s state pension. I would be very grateful for any advice before exploring further with the Department for Work and Pensions.

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Steve Webb replies: Thank you for getting in touch. I was sorry to read about the bereavements you have faced.

When we talk about inheriting state pension from someone who has died, we commonly think about how much a widow will get when her husband dies.

But the old state pension system also allowed widowers, such as yourself, to inherit state pension following the loss of their wife, provided they did not remarry before pension age.

Did you miss out on a state pension lump sum if you were widowed?

 

This is Money’s columnist Steve Webb calls on elderly widows who might have missed out on a backpayment when their husbands died to get in contact. 

He wants to help people get money that is rightfully theirs, and find out if there is a systematic problem not picked up in the Government’s massive correction exercise for elderly women who were underpaid. 

Find out if you could be affected, and how to contact Steve here.

> Did you miss out on state pension if you were widowed in retirement? 

I will explain here how the rules worked for those, such as yourself, who come under the old state pension system. (There is some provision for widowers under the new, post 2016 system, but this is much more limited).

There are two main elements to the old state pension system, and each of them can lead to an uplift following the loss of a spouse.

The first element is the basic state pension. For a man of your generation, you would have needed 44 years of NI contributions to get a full basic pension.

If, for any reason, you were short of this, then a late wife’s contributions could be used to top it up to the maximum rate.

It would be fair to say that most men already have a full basic pension and so their basic pension cannot be boosted any further, but for those who are short, the contributions of a late spouse can be used to get them to the full amount.

However, your pension would only be boosted if your late wife would have been entitled to some pension in her own right, based purely on her own full rate NI contributions.

You mentioned that your first wife paid the reduced ‘married woman’s stamp’, and those years would not have helped her build up a pension in her own right.

If, as a result, any pension she would have received would purely have been derived from your record, then that entitlement cannot now be used to top up your own basic pension.

A more relevant avenue for many men would be the second element of the old system – the additional or earnings-related state pension, variously known as Graduated Retirement Benefit, Serps or State Second Pension.

Each of these are additional amounts of state pension which vary according to what you earn.

Note however that in some cases a person can have little or no additional pension either because they were self-employed (and self-employed NI only generates basic pension) or because they were ‘contracted out’ and building up an alternative pension via a workplace or personal arrangement.

Your first wife may not have had much, if any, additional state pension (because of paying the reduced stamp) though she might have had a small amount of Graduated Retirement Benefit, built up during the 1960s and early 1970s. You can inherit half of this.

Can I inherit my late spouse’s state pension?

It is more likely that your second wife would have had additional state pension, assuming that she paid the ‘full stamp’.

If so, you can inherit at least 50 per cent of this on top of your state pension. The exact percentage depends on your late wife’s date of birth but if she was born in around 1943 you would actually inherit 90 per cent of her additional pension.

Full details on the rules on inheriting additional state pension are here.

If your state pension did not change when your second wife died then it would be well worth checking with the Department for Work and Pensions.

If you happen to have paperwork relating to your late wife’s state pension which shows she was receiving additional state pension then it is very likely that there would be something to inherit.

If a mistake has been made, it is possible that DWP would have found it eventually as part of the massive state pension correction exercise which it is undertaking, after This is Money and I exposed large scale errors.

But my impression is that initially they didn’t focus on the case of men on 100 per cent basic pensions whose pension was nonetheless in error because of missing inheritance.

Once they added this group to the search, the number of cases they need to check has gone up considerably, so you could be waiting a long time if you waited for them to contact you.

Ask Steve Webb a pension question

Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb is This Is Money’s Agony Uncle.

He is ready to answer your questions, whether you are still saving, in the process of stopping work, or juggling your finances in retirement.

Steve left the Department of Work and Pensions after the May 2015 election. He is now a partner at actuary and consulting firm Lane Clark & Peacock.

If you would like to ask Steve a question about pensions, please email him at pensionquestions@thisismoney.co.uk.

Steve will do his best to reply to your message in a forthcoming column, but he won’t be able to answer everyone or correspond privately with readers. Nothing in his replies constitutes regulated financial advice. Published questions are sometimes edited for brevity or other reasons.

Please include a daytime contact number with your message – this will be kept confidential and not used for marketing purposes.

If Steve is unable to answer your question, you can also contact MoneyHelper, a Government-backed organisation which gives free assistance on pensions to the public. It can be found here and its number is 0800 011 3797.

Steve receives many questions about state pension forecasts and COPE – the Contracted Out Pension Equivalent. If you are writing to Steve on this topic, he responds to a typical reader question here. It includes links to Steve’s several earlier columns about state pension forecasts and contracting out, which might be helpful.  

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