Chapter : Maximizing Your Benefit
Many people ask can I collect my deceased spouses social security and my own at the same time? In fact, you cannot simply add together both a survivor benefit and your own retirement benefit. Instead, Social Security will pay the higher of the two amounts.
Did you Know?
If the benefit you would receive as a survivor is higher than your own earned benefit, Social Security pays the higher of the two amounts not the two combined.
While it can seem unfair to not be able to claim both full benefits, there are claiming strategies you can use to maximize the total Social Security benefits you receive. This includes switching from one benefit to the other. See an example from one of our users directly below.
Making the right decision on how to maximize your own benefits depends on how much your own retirement benefit vs. survivor benefit would be, and how long you think you will be living and needing the money. It also depends on whether youre working.
- If you are already receiving spousal benefits when your spouse dies Social Security will convert your benefit to survivors benefits, which are up to 100% of your late spouses full retirement benefit .
Who Is Entitled To Survivors Benefits From Social Security
How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies SSA.gov/benefits/survivors
Social Security is a key source of financial security to widowed spouses. About 7.8 million individuals aged 60 and older receive Social Security benefits based, at least in part, on a deceased spouses work record. These surviving spouse beneficiaries are overwhelmingly women.
These beneficiaries include 3.6 million people who are eligible only as widowed spouses. Another 4.2 million who are entitled to benefits based on their own work records but whose deceased spouses benefit amounts were higher than their own, will receive higher benefits as individuals .
What About My Ex
Spousal benefits for divorced spouses are affected by the Bipartisan Budget Act, too. Previously, divorced spouses who were married for 10 years or more could claim reduced auxiliary benefits from their exs record when they reached age 62, or full auxiliary benefits when they reached full retirement age, all while letting their own benefits grow. Thats no longer the case as of April 30, 2016.
If youre divorced and you turn 62 on or before January 1, 2016, you can still file a Restricted Application and receive your divorced spousal benefits, waiting until age 70 to claim your primary retirement benefits. But those who arent in that age group will no longer be able to claim spousal benefits without claiming their primary benefits. Like still-married spouses, ex-spouses will be assumed to be claiming all their benefits when they first file.
Note that a divorced spouse married for 10 years or more can claim full auxiliary benefits on their exs record at any age if he or she is caring for the dependent minor child of the ex-spouse.
Also, the divorced spousal benefit for people whose ex-spouses are still alive is lower than the divorced widows benefit.
If you remarry, it doesnt keep your ex from being eligible to claim benefits on your record. But having an ex who is claiming benefits on your record wont keep your new spouse from being able to claim benefits either.
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Benefits For Widows And Widowers
Widows and widowers are able to get Social Security benefits at age 60. If they are qualifying for disability, then benefits may begin at age 50.
They can take reduced benefits on one record and then switch to full benefits on another record later in Social Security.
From age 60 to 62, a woman can take a reduced widows benefit and then switch to her own full retirement benefit at full retirement age.
Are Benefits Paid Retroactively
No one wants to interrupt their grieving process to fill out forms and wrangle with bureaucracy. Unfortunately, though, the Social Security Administration does not make retroactive payments after a period longer than six months. If you wait more than six months to claim Social Security death benefits, you will not be entitled to back payment for the time over six months. So it pays to make your benefit claim appointment promptly.
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For Qualified Surviving Spouses With At Least 1 Dependent:
|If you have 1 dependent child and
|Your MAPR amount is :
|If you have 1 dependent child and
|You dont qualify for Housebound or Aid and Attendance benefits
|Your MAPR amount is :
- The Survivor Benefit Plan /Minimum Income Annuity limitation is $9,896.
- If you have more than 1 child, add $2,523 to your MAPR amount for each additional child.
- If you have a child who works, you may exclude their wages up to $12,950.
- If you have medical expenses, you may deduct only the amount thats above 5% of your MAPR amount .
The Delayed Retirement Credit
For every year between your full retirement age and age 70 that you dont claim benefits, youll get a credit of 8% of your benefits. And on top of that, your benefits will get a Cost-of-Living Adjustment , a bump in your benefits based on how the Social Security Administration estimates each years increase in the cost of living. Thats why many people wait to file until after their full retirement age.
The longer you wait to claim primary benefits up to age 70, the more time they have to grow. You will get larger per-month benefits if you wait longer to begin collecting them. Thats why many experts encourage people to think of 70 as the true full retirement age for Social Security purposes.
Is your spouse still alive? Well, as of April 30, 2016, youll no longer be able to claim spousal benefits and defer your primary benefits, letting them grow until you reach age 70. The day you apply for Social Security benefits, whether its at 62 or 70 or any age in between, youll be filing for the larger of either your spousal or primary benefits.
To Wait Or Not To Wait
Consider taking benefits earlier if . . .
- You are no longer working and can’t make ends meet without your benefits.
- You are in poor health and don’t expect the surviving member of the household to make it to average life expectancy.
- You are the lower-earning spouse, and your higher-earning spouse can wait to file for a higher benefit.
Consider waiting to take benefits if . . .
- You are still working and make enough to impact the taxability of your benefits.
- Either you or your spouse are in good health and expect to exceed average life expectancy.
- You are the higher-earning spouse and want to be sure your surviving spouse receives the highest possible benefit.
When Should I Start Collecting Social Security
Ultimately, the decision of when to begin collecting Social Security is one you have to make. It depends on your age, your health status, how much you spend and how much you have saved. Its generally best to start collecting as late as you can, because you get a larger monthly payment, which is adjusted for inflation each year.
Consider a retiree who was born in 1950 and averaged $50,000 a year in salary. If she has $3,000 a month in expenses, her Social Security check would cover 48 percent of her expenses if she started Social Security at age 62. If she waited till age 70, her check would cover 85 percent of her expenses. Every year she delays retirement, her Social Security payout which is adjusted annually for inflation rises by about $1,649.
Traditionally, the retirement system in the U.S. has been a three-legged stool: Social Security, savings and pensions. Social Security was never intended to be the sole source of income for retirement. Increasingly, however, employers have been moving away from their employer-sponsored pension plans in favor of tax-deferred retirement savings accounts, such as 401 plans.
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Who Qualifies For Widow Benefits
Generally speaking, a widow or widower may qualify for survivor benefits if the individual is at least 60 years old and has been married to the deceased individual for at least nine months at the time of death. Other qualifications can include being the surviving spouse of a Social Security beneficiary from whom you are divorced.
Beware The Blackout Period
As noted earlier, a widow or widower generally doesn’t qualify for their benefits until age 60. However, that person can collect payouts as the caregiver for the deceased’s children until they turn 16.
Children qualify for benefits until they turn 18 . But between the child’s 18th birthday and the spouse’s 60th birthday , no one in the family is eligible to collect. That’s what’s known as a blackout period.
For example, a woman is left widowed at the age of 30 with a two-year-old son. As her son’s caregiver, she is entitled to collect Social Security benefits for 14 years, until his 16thbirthday. After that, her son continues to receive his survivor benefits for two more years, until he’s 18. His mom will be 48 at that point, leaving the family ineligible for any payments until her widow’s benefits become available when she’s 60. In this case, the Social Security blackout period lasts 12 years.
One possible solution is for families to make sure they have adequate life insurance to support a surviving spouse during any blackout period. Take, for instance, a couple, both 31 years old, who recently had a child. If either parent dies, the surviving spouse is eligible to collect benefits until they are 47 years old . If they both buy 30-year term life insurance policies and keep up with the premiums, they’ll be assured of coverage until age 61one year after Social Security eligibility is reinstatedin case one of them dies.
What About The Lump
The lump-sum Social Security death benefit is a one-time payment of $255. If a person is already claiming spousal benefits at the time their spouse dies, that person does not need to submit a separate application for the lump-sum Social Security death benefit. The $255 will automatically be credited. Dependent children, though, will need to apply to receive the $255 payment.
How Long Do You Have To Be Married To Get Social Security Survivor Benefits
A surviving spouse must have been married for at least one year to be eligible to receive their spouse’s Social Security death benefits. However, if the surviving spouse is the parent of the spouse’s child, the one-year rule is waived. A divorced spouse may be eligible to receive benefits if they were married to their former spouse for at least 10 years.
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You Only Get One Payment
You can either get your Social Security income or your spouseâs, but not both. Once you and your spouse are both getting Social Security benefits, upon the death of your spouse, you will keep getting the larger benefit.
If your spouse had started benefits, but you had not, you can choose to collect a survivor benefit now. If your benefit would be larger when you reach age 70, you can then switch.
If you are caring for a child younger than age 16, you will receive 75% of the deceased workerâs benefit amount. This is true at any age.
Minor Or Child With A Disability
If you are the unmarried child under age 18 of a worker who dies, you can be eligible to receive Social Security survivors benefits. You can also be eligible, if you are up to age 19 and attending elementary or secondary school full time.
Besides the worker’s natural children, their stepchildren, grandchildren, step grandchildren, or adopted children may receive benefits under certain circumstances.
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If You’re Already Receiving Retirement Benefits
For those already being paid retirement benefits, they can only apply for benefits as a widow or widower if the current retirement benefit being received is less than the survivor benefit. In other words, they’ll pay you the higher of the two benefits. However, both benefits cannot be combined and taken at the same time.
How Much Can You Get
First, Social Security pays a death benefit of $255 if the surviving spouse lived with the deceased spouse. This payment is made only once. More important is the monthly income.
At a basic level, the monthly amount depends on the earnings of the deceased spouse over their whole life. It also depends on the Social Security income they were getting or would have gotten.
The higher your spouse’s earnings were over their life, the higher their Social Security income will be.
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When Should You Claim A Survivor’s Benefit
There are pros and cons to taking your survivor benefit before your FRA.
If you start at a lower age, you get this income for a longer time. The amount you get, though, may be lower than if you started later.
Many people can start to collect a survivor benefit before their reach FRA. It may make sense to start collecting now, then switch to your own retirement benefit at age 70 if it would be larger at that point.
For example, you could have these two options:
At first glance, taking the money at 60 might seem like a good idea. But choosing option 2 will provide at least $30,000 more income over your life.
It will also provide a more secure income at age 66 and beyond once you take into account. If your goal is to reduce the risk of living longer than you have money for, you will want to use the option that gives you the most income over the rest of your life.
This might mean not starting benefits right away, even if you are able to get them. If you wait until age 66 or 67 and get more, you will have a higher total payout from Social Security over your lifetime.
Can My Surviving Spouse Claim My Social Security Death Benefits And Their Own Primary Benefits
Nope. Auxiliary benefits were designed to protect the non-working spouses and children of workers, not to provide extra money to surviving spouses whose work histories make them eligible for benefits on their own record.
A surviving spouse whose age and labor force participation make them eligible for primary Social Security benefits should not expect to receive full Social Security death benefits on top of their own check. The Social Security Administration wants to guard against what it considers excess benefits, so will adjust the benefits of anyone who is eligible for both spousal/death benefits AND primary benefits.
Social Security will pay out the larger of either the spousal/survivor benefits or the primary benefits, but not both. This is known as the Dual Entitlement Rule. So, if you consistently earned more than your spouse and your spouse predeceases you while youre both claiming Social Security, you wont get an income boost because your primary Social Security benefits are greater than the death benefits youre eligible for.
If youre a widow or widower youre eligible to claim death benefits beginning at age 60, or age 50 if youre disabled. You can claim auxiliary benefits while letting your own benefits grow until you reach age 70. Alternatively, you can claim your own benefits beginning at age 62 and wait until later to claim auxiliary benefits.
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How Long Do You Receive Social Security Survivor Benefits
Social Security survivor benefits are payable to the surviving spouse for the remainder of their life. Restrictions apply for divorced spouses eligible to receive benefits.
Benefits for surviving children end at age 18 or age 19 and 2 months if still pursuing their elementary or secondary education. For surviving children who became disabled before age 22, their benefits continue for life.
Whats The Net Worth Limit To Be Eligible For Survivors Pension Benefits
From December 1, 2021, to November 30, 2022, the net worth limit to be eligible for Survivors Pension benefits is $138,489.
On October 18, 2018, we changed the way we assess net worth to make the pension entitlement rules clearer. Net worth includes your assets and annual income. When you apply for Survivors Pension benefits, youll need to report all of your assets and income.
Note: If your child’s net worth is more than the net worth limit, we don’t consider them to be a dependent when we determine your pension.
Read our definitions below:
How Are Social Security Survivor Benefits Calculated
To understand Social Security benefit calculations, you first need to understand one piece of jargon: primary insurance amount . A persons primary insurance amount is the amount of their monthly retirement benefit, if they file for that benefit exactly at their full retirement age.
If your spouse has died and you file for a benefit as their survivor, your benefit will depend on:
- Your deceased spouses PIA,
- Whether your deceased spouse had already filed for his/her retirement benefit ,
- The age at which your spouse died, and
- The age at which you file for your benefit as a surviving spouse.
Lets first assume that you have reached your survivor full retirement age by the time you file for your survivor benefit.
If your spouse had not filed yet for his/her own retirement benefit by the time he/she died, then:
- If your spouse died prior to his/her full retirement age, your benefit as a surviving spouse will be your deceased spouses PIA.
- If your spouse died after reaching his/her full retirement age, your benefit as a surviving spouse will be whatever he/she would have received as a retirement benefit, if he/she had filed on his/her date of death.
If your spouse had filed for his/her own retirement benefit by the time he/she died, then your benefit as a surviving spouse will be the greater of:
- The amount your deceased spouse was receiving at the time of his/her death, or
- 82.5% of your deceased spouses PIA.