Social Security for Surviving Spouses


If you’re retired and your spouse has recently passed away, worrying about money is probably the last thing you want to do right now. Social Security survivor’s benefits can be a big help, so long as you know the rules. If you’re trying to navigate the world of Social Security survivor’s benefits for yourself or someone you love – or just trying to understand them as part of your own retirement planning – here’s a quick overview. And be sure to stay until the very end where I share a strategy that could add thousands to your benefits.

How Much Can You Receive?

The amount of survivor’s benefits you can receive depends on how old you are when you apply. If you apply at your Full Retirement Age or later, you will be eligible to receive 100% of your deceased spouse’s benefits. Your “Full Retirement Age” – or FRA – is the age at which you are eligible to receive full retirement benefits based on your own work history.

You can apply for survivor’s benefits as early as age 60. However, if you apply for benefits before your FRA, your benefits will be reduced by as much as 28.5%. Just like retirement benefits, the earlier you apply, the more they will be reduced.

Unlike retirement benefits, however, survivor’s benefits do not increase if you delay your application. So, there’s no need to wait beyond your Full Retirement Age if survivor’s benefits make sense for you.

Surviving spouses caring for children under 16 are eligible for 75% of their survivor benefits, regardless of the surviving spouse’s age. These benefits will continue until the child turns 16. However, the surviving spouse and the recently deceased spouse must both be the parents of the child. There are also rules for dependent children who became disabled before turning 22.

Requirements For Eligibility

Survivors’ benefits aren’t automatic. You must typically be married for at least nine months to qualify. Also, if your spouse passes away and you remarry, you will no longer be eligible for survivor’s benefits as a spouse.

Finally, if an ex-spouse passes away after you’ve been divorced, there are different considerations that I’ve outlined in a prior blog post.

A Strategy to Consider

If you’re a widow or widower, there’s one strategy that you should discuss with your financial advisor. In some cases, you can apply early for survivor’s benefits while still allowing your retirement benefits to increase.

In other words, you may be able to receive survivor’s benefits as early as age 60 – at a reduced amount, of course – and let the separate Social Security retirement benefits you’re entitled to based on your own work history increase.

You do have the option to take your own retirement benefits later if they end up being a higher amount. You can even delay until age 70 for the maximum benefit.

I’ve used this strategy in the past; it drastically increased the total Social Security benefits my client received over her lifetime.

If you need help figuring out Social Security survivor’s benefits, then click here to set up a quick, complimentary introduction call to see if Prana Wealth is a good fit. We do still have the capacity to take on new clients.

As a fee-only financial advisor in Atlanta, we can (and do) work virtually with clients all across the U.S. and we’re here to help you when you’re ready.

The information contained herein is intended to be used for educational purposes only and is not exhaustive. Diversification and/or any strategy that may be discussed does not guarantee against investment losses but is intended to help manage risk and return. If applicable, historical discussions and/or opinions are not predictive of future events. The content is presented in good faith and has been drawn from sources believed to be reliable. The content is not intended to be legal, tax, or financial advice. Please consult a legal, tax, or financial professional for information specific to your individual situation.
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