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Social Security and Survivor (Widow and Widower) Benefits

 Whenever I mention social security survivor benefits, many assume I'm referring to a surviving spouse's one-time lump sum death benefit of $255. Although the lump sum payment is available to surviving spouses, the survivor benefits I'm alluding to are the monthly benefits that may be available to a surviving spouse and dependents of a deceased parent. The rules regarding survivor benefits provide widows and widowers greater flexibility than other Social Security beneficiaries because retirement and survivor benefits represent different pools of money. A surviving spouse can choose one benefit first and switch to another benefit later if it results in a larger monthly amount. To be eligible to receive a Social Security survivor's benefit: 

  • Monthly survivor benefits are available to certain family members, including:
  • A widow(er) age 60 or older (age 50 or older if they are disabled)
  • A widow(er) of any age who has not remarried and is caring for the deceased's child (or children) under age 16 or disabled
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school), or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22
  • A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child, under certain circumstances
  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their income and whose own Social Security benefit would not be larger than that of the deceased offspring
    ·             * A surviving divorced spouse, if they meet other eligibility requirements

 Survivor Benefits are based on either what the deceased spouse was receiving, or what they were entitle to receive at the time of death. 

For example, Spouse A, who is 66 years old, and receives $2,000 per month, suddenly dies. Spouse B, the widow or widower, who is also 66 years old, is entitled to receive the larger of her retirement benefit or the survivor benefit of $2,000 per month. But assume that Spouse A dies at age 70 and suspends their benefits at age 66 to take advantage of delayed retirement credits of an 8% increase each year until age 70 (8% X 4 years = 32%). Under these circumstances, the monthly survivor benefit to Spouse B would be $2,640 ($2,000 PIA X 1.24%). Unless Spouse B's retirement benefit exceeds $2,480, they can receive the higher survivor benefit.

On the other hand, taking survivor benefits early, just as with retirement or spousal benefits, will result in a reduction in benefits due to an early filing penalty and a possible reduction in benefits if you continue to work to your full retirement age. maybe a challenging decision. A worker's decision to collect early reduced retirement benefits will result in a reduced survivor benefit for the surviving spouse. If the surviving spouse has reached full retirement age or older, they will receive the larger of what the deceased worker collected or 82.5% of the worker's full retirement age benefit. So if a worker's full-retirement-age benefit is $2,000 per month and he collects early at 62, he receives just $1,500 per month — a 25% reduction for collecting benefits four years early. If he later dies, the maximum benefit his widow could collect is $1,650 — 82.5% of her husband's full benefit if she is at least her full retirement age. It will be less if she claims survivor benefits before her full retirement age (see chart below).

Percentage of Eligible Survivor Benefits At Various Ages (monthly reduction of approximately 4.0%)

***For Those With Full Retirement Age of 67 (born in 1960 and later). 

Age     Percent

60         71.50%  

61         75.60%

62         79.70%

63         83.80%

64         87.90%

65         92.00%

66         96.00%

67       100.00%

For example, Mary, age 59, is a widow. Her husband died last year at the age of 63. When Mary reaches age 60, she can receive 85.75% of her husbands Primary insurance Amount, which is the amount he would have received at FRA (67). If her own retirement benefit is larger by the time she turns 70 because of the delayed retirement credits, she will be able to switch her survivor benefit into her retirement benefit.

The benefit is greatest for a married couple if the spouse who is the higher wage earner delays his or her benefit until the age of 70 to take advantage of delayed retirement credits. Not only will his or her income benefit be 24% higher, but the increased monthly survivor benefit to the surviving spouse can be significant.

At Carr Wealth Management, LLC, anyone who sets goals for themselves qualifies to be a client. Whether you need help creating a comprehensive financial plan or need advice on individual matters, we can help.  Choosing the best strategy for maximizing social security benefits is essential to planning for your future. Please contact us by email or phone us at (925) 484-1671 to schedule a no-charge consultation or if you have a question about Social Security Benefits. 

Click Here for Survivor Benefit Example 

Click Here for Main Social Security Planning page. 


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