Social Security filing strategies for the widowed

Losing a spouse is difficult, but it can be comforting to know that Social Security survivors benefits could help keep your financial house in order in the years ahead.

To maximize the amount you receive in survivors benefits, however, it is important to consider the rules and claiming strategies carefully.


Timing is everything

If your deceased spouse earned enough credits during his or her working years, you may begin collecting survivors benefits as early as age 60, but your benefit will be permanently reduced by a fraction of a percent for each month before your full retirement age.

Depending on when you were born, your full retirement age is either 66 or 67. You will collect the full amount to which you are entitled — either your own benefit, or up to 100% of your deceased spouse’s benefit, whichever amount is greater — by waiting until your full retirement age.


Who is eligible for Social Security survivors benefits?

Widows and widowers may receive full benefits at their full retirement age or reduced benefits as early as age 60. Those with a disability that started before or within seven years of the worker’s death may begin collecting benefits as early as age 50. You may also receive survivors benefits at any age if you care for a minor child (under age 16) of the deceased worker, or if that child is disabled and receiving Social Security benefits based on the worker’s record.

If you get remarried after age 60, or age 50 if disabled, your new marriage status will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. However, be aware that if your current spouse is also eligible for Social Security and earns more than your former spouse, you may wish to apply for spousal benefits based on your new spouse’s record instead.

Widows and widowers who collect a survivors benefit, but also qualify for a benefit on their own, may potentially collect a survivors benefit in the early years of retirement and leave their own Social Security benefit to accrue delayed retirement credits. They may then switch to their own (augmented) retirement benefit as late as age 70.


Seek assistance

Please be aware that you cannot apply for survivors benefits online. You must either call 800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office.

Because survivors benefits are complicated, the federal government suggests that you talk to a Social Security representative. A financial advisor can also help you explore the different filing strategies that might work best for you.

Final decisions about Social Security filing strategies always rest with you and should always be based on your specific needs and health considerations. One year after the Social Security claiming decision is made the options for change are extremely limited.


Provided by Jordan Jones, courtesy of Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company (MassMutual)

© 2019 Massachusetts Mutual Life Insurance Company, Springfield, MA 01111-0001

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