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Social Security Survivor Benefits for a Spouse

Many people are unaware of the social security survivor benefit that they may be eligible for when their spouse or ex-spouse passes away. Also, there are some caveats that one should know about.

Are You Eligible?

You are eligible for a survivor benefit if you meet one of the following requirements:

  • If you have been married for at least 9 months (this is waived if you are caring for a child of the decease spouse who is under age 16).
  • If you are the divorced spouse, you could get benefits just the same - provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more.
  • If you had two or more marriages and each lasted longer than 10 years or more, you can claim benefits based on the spouse that had the highest earning record.

How Much is The Benefit?

The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased spouse’s basic Social Security benefit. Here are some examples:

  • Widow or widower, full retirement age or older - 100 percent of the deceased worker's benefit amount;
  • Widow or widower, age 60 to full retirement age - 71½ to 99 percent of the deceased worker's basic amount;
  • Disabled widow or widower aged 50 through 59 - 71½ percent;
  • Widow or widower, any age, caring for a child under age 16 - 75 percent.

Click here to check your full retirement age: http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html

One important note is that there are no delayed credits for waiting past full retirement age so there is no reason to wait once you reach your full retirement age.

Caveats

Here are some caveats that may affect your benefits:

  • If both you and your deceased spouse are receiving social security benefits, you will continue to receive the larger of your benefit, or your spousal benefit, but not both.
  • If you remarry before you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), you cannot receive benefits as a surviving spouse. The exception is that you remarried and divorced again and are currently single.  There is no such restriction if after you reach age 60.
  • If you will receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security (like a local government pension), your survivor benefit may be offset. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset (GPO). The GPO will reduce your spousal benefit by 2/3 of the amount of your pension.
  • If you are still working before full retirement age, Social Security will deduct $1 from your benefit payment for every 42 you earn above the annual limit ($15,720 for 2015).

Takeaways

If you are eligible for Social Security benefits based on your work record, it could be to your advantage to take a survivor benefit first and wait until age 70 to switch over to your own benefit. By doing so, you earn delayed retirement credits of about 8% per year. This is assuming your benefit will surpass the survivor benefit at that point.

You can not apply for survivors benefits online; call 1-800-772-1213 to speak with a representative. You may be asked to provide documents to show eligibility so be sure to make an inquiry for the list of documents required.

To sum up, Social Security benefits are a complex area, it will serve you well to do all of your “homework” on the relevant benefit you may receive and/or consult with a professional when deciding on the best claiming strategy.