Understanding Social Security Survivors Benefits is Worth the Effort

Jane Young, CFP, EA

Jane Young, CFP, EA

There are a myriad of different Social Security options available to widows and widowers.  If you have lost a spouse, it is worthwhile to take the time required to fully understand your Social Security benefits. As a widow or widower, you have the choice of taking Social Security based on your own work record, or Social Security based on the work record of your spouse (survivor benefits).  You are eligible for 100% of your deceased spouse’s basic benefit, at full retirement age.  Reduced benefits are available as early as age 60, and if you are disabled, benefits can begin at 50.  The full retirement age is 66 if you were born between 1945 and 1956, and gradually increases up to 67 if you were born between 1957 and 1960.  The normal retirement age for everyone born after 1960 is 67.

If you started taking Social Security on your own record, before the loss of your spouse, call Social Security to see if you can receive more in the form of survivor benefits.  One nice feature of Social Security survivor’s benefits is the option to begin taking benefits based on your own earnings record, and later switch to survivors benefits.  Conversely, you can begin taking survivor’s benefits and later switch to benefits based on your own work record.   Unlike standard spousal benefits, you can switch even if you started taking benefits prior to reaching full retirement age.

Generally, you cannot get survivor’s benefits if you remarry before age 60.  After age 60, remarriage does not impact your benefits.  Additionally, at age 62 you are eligible to get benefits based on your new spouses benefits.  You may have the choice between benefits based on your own work record, benefits based on the work record of your deceased spouse, or benefits based on the work record of your current spouse.  Unfortunately, you have to choose from one of these options.  If other family members are entitled to survivor’s benefits, there is a limit to the total amount that can be paid to a family.

 If you receive a pension from a federal, state, or local government job where you did not pay Social Security, your survivor’s benefits may be reduced.    Your Social Security benefits will be reduced by two thirds of your government pension.  Additionally, if you collect Social Security based on your own work record, and you receive a pension from a job where you did not pay Social Security, your benefit may be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision. Be sure to discuss this with your Social Security representative before you file for benefits.

Social Security survivor’s benefit can be very complex; please take the time to fully understand your options.  Before filing for Social Security, research the options available to you at www.socialsecurity.gov and meet with a Social Security representative to fully understand your choices.

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