Understanding Social Security “Surviving Spouse” Benefits

Feb 2015

Recently I wrote a blog on what types of social security benefits might be available for a divorced spouse.  Another area of social security benefits that is important for those who are married is the rights of widows and widowers to be able to qualify for their deceased spouses benefits.

These are commonly known as Social Security survivor benefits, and there are millions of widows and widowers receiving them based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record. But like most things relating to Social Security benefits, it can be confusing determining what benefits someone may qualify for, so I want to try to bring some light to this scenario.

In general, if you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for a benefit, you can:

•Receive full benefits at full retirement age (age 66 or older) for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.

•Begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled AND the disability started before or within seven years of the worker’s death.

• Receive benefits at any age if you take care of your child who is receiving Social Security benefits and younger than age 16 or disabled.

If you are a widow or widower and are already receiving Social Security benefits based on your own work history, it may be possible that you can get more money as a widow or widower. If so, you will receive a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.   In simple terms, if a married couple has both spouses collecting Social Security benefits and one of the spouses dies, the smaller benefit will go away and the survivor will receive an amount equal to the highest of the two benefits.

If your children are very young when a spouse dies, not only could you receive a benefit for a period of time while your children are minors, but your children may also receive a monthly survivor benefit.  As long as your children are unmarried and younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are in elementary or high school full-time) they would receive a monthly benefit.

The ability to collect specific survivor benefits and the amount you can collect varies based on each individual’s situation.  But it is best to be proactive if you are a surviving spouse to make sure you get the Social Security benefits you qualify for.  To determine what your exact benefit potential is, it is always best to contact Social Security directly at 800-772-1213 or visit the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov.   When it comes to strategies for when to apply for Social Security and how to best maximize your benefits, we work with our clients on a regular basis in this regard.

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