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Social Security for Widows

November 28, 2016

Social Security can be a lifeline for widows in Greenville, South Carolina. So, this week, we’re talking directly to widows (and widowers) about this important topic.

If your husband dies after you both have started receiving Social Security benefits, you can switch to your husband’s benefits if the amount is higher. This is why we generally recommend that the higher earner claims benefits at 70 in order to maximize their own benefits while they’re alive and to give their spouse a higher survivor benefit.

It should also be noted that by claiming your husband’s higher benefit, your own benefit will stop. If your expenses remain the same as they did before your husband passed, this could leave you with insufficient income.

Note: If a woman becomes widowed at a young age — before she and her husband have started receiving Social Security retirement benefits — the rules are different. The law varies depending on the widow’s age and situation.

Mothers of Young Children

If you become widowed while you still have young children at home, you and your children may qualify for survivor benefits based on your deceased husband’s work record. The benefit for each family member is 75% of his Primary Insurance Amount (PIA) — not to exceed the family maximum. The children’s benefits may continue until age 18 or 19 if attending high school or disabled. The widow’s own child-in-care benefit may continue until the youngest child turns 16.

Reaching Age 60

Starting at the age of 60, you may be eligible for a survivor benefit based on your deceased husband’s work record. However, if you claim your survivor benefit at age 60, it will be reduced to 71.5% of the full amount. For this reason, it may be better to start survivor benefits at Full Retirement Age (FRA), which is 66 for widows born between 1945 and 1956 and will eventually rise to 67 for those born after 1960.

On the other hand, if you have a strong work record and a high PIA of your own, you could go ahead and start your reduced survivor benefit at age 60 and switch to your own maximum retirement benefit at 70.

Earnings Test Applies Before Full Retirement Age

If you are working at full salary, most or all of your benefits may be withheld until you reach FRA. This is not a reason to stop working, but it may be a reason to wait until FRA to apply for benefits, when the earnings test no longer applies.

What About Remarriage?

Remarriage after age 60 will not affect your survivor benefit. You could remarry at age 60 and still get your survivor benefit at 66. If you do remarry, you will be able to choose between the survivor benefit from your previous husband and the spousal benefit from your current husband. Since survivor benefits are 100% of the deceased’s PIA and spousal benefits max out at 50% of the current spouse’s PIA, the survivor benefit is likely to be higher. Again, you can maximize that benefit by claiming it at FRA.

Widowers Too!

Social Security benefits are gender neutral. This means that widowers can claim survivor benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record — something men might not think to ask about. A widower who is still working (and subject to the earnings test before FRA) could file for his survivor benefit at FRA and switch to his own maximum benefit at 70. Depending on his former spouse’s earnings record, this could give him many thousands of dollars in unexpected benefits.

Divorcees Too!

All the same rules apply if your ex-spouse is deceased as long as the marriage lasted at

least 10 years and the person is either unmarried or remarried after age 60.

If you or someone you know has lost a spouse (or former spouse if the marriage lasted more than 10 years), talk to Social Security about the benefits you may be entitled to. With the help of the Social Security Administration, you’ll better understand how to sequence your benefits to increase your lifetime earnings and increase income in your later years.

Remember, if you’re looking for help with Social Security, JEHM Wealth & Retirement are retirement income planning professionals that have the resources and knowledge to help you along the way.

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