Social Security Survivor Benefits for Spouses

Clients often think of Social Security for retirement planning, but Social Security survivor benefits, especially for spouses, should be considered as well.

Social Security is the main retirement income source for more than 60% of Americans, which is why it is usually the focus of news about retirement income. However, there’s more to Social Security survivor benefits, including how it helps surviving spouses. Social Security survivor benefits can be a critical part of retirement securities when families lose a loved one, says the article “Understanding the Basics Of Social Security Benefits for Surviving Spouses” from Forbes.

The rules about Social Security survivor benefits for spouses can be complicated. There are four basic categories of survivor benefits. Here’s a closer look:

Survivor benefits at age 60. At their full retirement age, the surviving spouse can receive full survivor benefits based on the deceased individual retirement benefit. The amount from the survivor benefit is based on the deceased spouse’s earnings. At full retirement age, the survivor receives 100% of the deceased individuals’ benefit or their projected benefit at full retirement age. If they collect benefits before full retirement age, you’ll get between 70% to 99% of the deceased spouse’s benefit.

You cannot receive both your benefit and your deceased spouse’s benefit. In most cases, it makes sense to defer whichever is the higher benefit, taking the lower benefit first while the larger benefit continues to increase.

Lump sum payment. This was originally intended to help survivors with certain funeral and end-of-life costs. However, the amount has never been indexed for inflation. Therefore, it won’t cover much. To get the payment, the surviving spouse must apply for it within the first two years of the deceased individual’s date of death.

Disabled benefit. If you qualify as disabled, you can receive survivor benefits as early as age 50. Divorced spouses can also receive survivor benefits, if the marriage lasted for at least ten years. If you remarry, you cannot receive survivor benefits. However, if you remarry after age 60, or age 50 if disabled, you can continue to receive survivor benefits based on your deceased spouse’s benefit, if you were married for at least ten years. You can even switch over to a spousal benefit based on the new spouses’ work history at age 62, if the new benefit would be higher.

Caring for children under age 16. A surviving spouse of any age caring for a child who is under age 16 may receive 75% of the worker’s benefit amount. The child is also eligible for a survivor benefit of 75% of the deceased parent’s benefits. A divorced spouse taking care of the deceased ex’s child younger than 16 is also entitled to 75% of the deceased spouse’s benefit. In this case, the ex does not need to meet the ten-year marriage rule, and they can be any age to collect benefits.

You can also see this article from Mary Galligan that discusses the timing of these benefits.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/social-security-benefits-what-happens-when-a-spouse-dies/

One thing to consider: the rules surrounding Social Security benefits are complex, especially when it comes to coordinating benefits with an overall financial plan. Contact our office and your financial planner to learn how these rules may help protect your family and children.

Reference: Forbes (Dec. 30, 2019) “Understanding the Basics Of Social Security Benefits for Surviving Spouses”