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Social Security Surviving Spouse Retirement Benefits

Knowing the facts about Social Security retirement benefits will help you make decisions that can increase your income and financial stability. The Social Security Administration web site www.ssa.gov provides the following information to help:

A surviving spouse can choose between receiving Social Security retirement benefits based on their own work record or that of their deceased spouse. You can start one type of benefit, let the other grow, then switch to the higher benefit later.

Widow’s or widower’s benefits can start any time between age 60 and full retirement age. However, if the benefits start before full retirement age, they are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before full retirement age.

A surviving spouse can begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if disabled AND the disability started before or within seven years of the worker’s death.

Surviving Spouse Retirement Benefit Amount

  • If the deceased spouse dies while receiving retirement benefits, the surviving spouse will receive the amount the deceased spouse was receiving.
  • If the deceased spouse dies before full retirement age and was not receiving benefits, the surviving spouse is eligible for the amount the deceased spouse would have received at full retirement age.
  • If the deceased spouse dies after full retirement age and was delaying Social Security retirement benefits to earn delayed retirement credits, the benefit is based on the amount they would have received on the date of their death.


Pensions from work not covered by Social Security:
If you get a pension from work for which you paid Social Security taxes, that pension won’t affect your Social Security benefits. However, if you get a retirement or disability pension from work not covered by Social Security — for example, the federal civil service, some state or local government employment, or work in a foreign country — your Social Security benefit can be reduced.

 Understand how income from work can reduce benefits
If you work while getting Social Security survivors benefits and are younger than full retirement age, your benefits will be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits:

  • If you are under full retirement age for the entire year, they deduct $1 from your benefit payments for every $2 you earn above the annual limit. For 2018, that limit is $17,040.
  • In the year you reach full retirement age, they deduct $1 in benefits for every $3 you earn above a different limit. In 2018, the limit on your earnings is $45,360 but they only count earnings before the month you reach your full retirement age.

There’s no earnings limit beginning with the month you reach full retirement age.

Note: If your earnings will be over the limit for the year but you will be retired for part of the year, Social Security has a special rule that applies to earnings for one year. The special rule allows you to receive a full Social Security check for any whole month you are considered retired, regardless of your yearly earnings.

Note: After you reach full retirement age, Social Security Administration will recalculate your benefit amount to give you credit for any months in which you did not receive a benefit because of your earnings.

Note: Pension payments, annuities, and the interest or dividends from your savings and investments are not earnings for Social Security purposes.

What if I remarry?
Usually, you can’t get widow’s or widower’s benefits if you remarry before age 60. But remarriage after age 60 (or age 50 if you’re disabled) won’t prevent you from getting benefit payments based on your former spouse’s work. And at age 62 or older, you can get benefits on your new spouse’s work, if those benefits would be higher.

When should you apply?
If you:

  • already receive benefits as a spouse, your benefit will automatically convert to survivor’s benefits after we receive the report of death.
  • are also eligible for retirement benefits (but haven’t applied yet), you have an additional option. You can apply for retirement or survivors benefits now and switch to the other (higher) benefit at a later date.
  • already receive retirement benefits, you can only apply for benefits as a widow or widower if the retirement benefit you receive is less than the benefits you would receive as a survivor.

Social Security rules are complicated and vary depending on your specific situation, so talk to a Social Security representative about your options before making sometimes irrevocable choices.

Sources:
Social Security Administration, “Survivors Benefits” https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10084.pdf retrieved 12/7/17.
Social Security Administration, “Survivors Planner: If You Are The Worker’s Widow Or Widower” https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou2.html retrieved 12/7/17.
Social Security Administration, “Social Security Benefit Amounts for the Surviving Spouse by Year of Birth” https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html retrieved 12/8/17.