4 Things a Surviving Spouse Should Know About Social Security

December 10, 2019

The Social Security administration gives benefits to surviving spouses based on the deceased’s retirement benefit. If the survivor is already taking retirement benefits, they can take the higher of either their own or their deceased spouse’s benefit.  Rules on these benefits are based on the age of the survivor and if the deceased had begun taking benefits before their passing.

1. Am I Eligible?

If you were married for more than nine months and your spouse dies, you may be eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your deceased spouse’s benefit amount. To start taking benefits you will need to be at least 60 years old (for a partial benefit) unless you are caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 years old. If you are disabled, you can claim benefits starting at age 50.

2. How Much Will I Receive?

The amount that a surviving spouse will receive is calculated on the benefit that the deceased spouse was receiving at the time of death or was entitled to receive (based on work history and age). For example, if Joe (deceased) had claimed Social Security at age 63 for a reduced benefit, when he dies, Joan (his surviving spouse) would also receive a reduced amount.

Although benefits can start at the survivor’s age 60, waiting until full retirement age (FRA) would increase the benefit. At age 60, you can receive 71.5% of the benefit your deceased spouse was receiving or entitled to receive. Waiting until FRA can increase it to 100%. It is important to note that your benefit does not increase if you wait past your FRA (as it would in a regular retirement benefit).

3. Should I Take My Retirement Benefit or a Survivor Benefit?

For those that have already begun taking a retirement benefit, Social Security allows you to claim both a retirement benefit and a survivor benefit, however, you would only receive the larger of the two amounts. There is also the option of taking one benefit first and waiting until you are older to take the other.

For example, depending on your age and amount, you can claim a survivor benefit first at age 60 and allow your own retirement benefit to grow to age 70 to accrue delayed retirement credits. Waiting to age 70 to take retirement benefits can increase your full benefit by up to 132%.

4. What Happens If I Remarry?

Remarrying after turning age 60 has no effect on your survivor benefit. However, if you remarry before turning that age, you are no longer eligible to receive survivor benefits from that marriage. It is possible to regain eligibility if your second marriage ends in death, divorce or annulment. If you are widowed twice you can claim benefits based on the benefit of both spouses, but would only be able to claim one of those benefits at a time.

Navigating through the options for Social Security may be complex. If you’ve lost a spouse and are wondering which option is best for you, talk to someone who is familiar with your family and are experts in the different options available. Making an informed decision right now may be crucial for your financial future in years to come.