Social Security Tips for Surviving Spouses


Social Security survivor benefits are paid to your spouse (or ex-spouse or children in certain circumstances) after you pass away. It sounds simple, but the rules can be complicated. Break it down to ensure your family’s financial security will be in the best possible place.Social Security survivor benefits are paid to your spouse (or ex-spouse or children in certain circumstances) after you pass away. It sounds simple, but the rules can be complicated. Break it down to ensure your family’s financial security will be in the best possible place.

Discerning the Size of the Benefits

  • Start by figuring out the benefit of the late spouse. This amount will be based on a number of factors including his or her earnings, age at death, and whether or not benefits were received before death. If not, and the spouse passed away between ages 62 and 66/67 (full retirement age, or FRA), the benefit would be equal to what he or she would have received at FRA. If the person in question did file within that same age range, the survivor will receive only a partial benefit. However, if the spouse filed for benefits AFTER reaching FRA, the survivor’s benefit will equal the payout that was being received. Finally, if the spouse reached FRA but had yet to file, the survivor will be paid what the benefit would be as of the day of the late spouse’s death.
  • Next, assess your own retirement benefit. The Social Security Administration (SSA) website features a tool to calculate what you would be entitled to at various ages based on your actual work history and earnings.
  • Figure out what the survivor benefit would be at any given point. “You can file as early as age 60 or wait until yourFRA,

    when this benefit will reach its maximum amount,” says author and journalist Philip Moeller in Money magazine. Moeller, an expert in finances for seniors, also notes that there are penalties for claiming the benefit before your FRA, so proceed with caution.

Mapping Out Your Strategy

Once you figure out all the above numbers, you can begin wading through the tricky waters of the claiming process. Kiplinger’s Personal Finance contributing editor Kimberly Lankford explained that while you can’t double dip, you do have the choice of which to receive based on the numbers calculated above and the timing of the circumstances.

“You can either get survivor benefits or receive benefits based on your own work history,” Lankford says. “You can’t take both benefits at the same time, but you can take one type of benefit first and let the other grow, then switch to the higher payout later.”

Moeller also notes that the better option may end up filing for just one of the benefits.

Because many factors are at play in this complicated process, it is best to consult with a financial adviser specializing in Social Security before making your final decision. You may also reference the SSA website at https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html for an interactive survivor benefits chart with additional details.

 

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