Social Security for Widows

In the final edition of our Social Security series, Kim provides useful information for widows and widowers.

Social Security for Widows Transcript

Welcome to Technical Tuesday with Financial Services Advisory. I’m Kim Scott, and I’m your host today. Today we are going to be talking about Social Security benefits for widows and widowers. I’d encourage you to refer back to our Social Security Basics video for the nuts and bolts on when you can file and what the impact of doing so is.

When someone passes away and they’ve worked at least a year and a half of the last three years and earned above a certain threshold, their family members may qualify for Social Security benefits based on their record.

Who is eligible for these benefits? Well, a surviving spouse at least age 60, potentially as young as 50 if you’re disabled; a surviving divorced spouse who meets certain requirements; a widow or widower caring for the deceased’s child under the age of 16; minor children who are unmarried and potentially up to age 19 if they’re still in primary or secondary school, as well as children over the age of 18 who became disabled prior to age 22; and lastly, parents of the deceased who are being cared for by the deceased.

For this segment, we’re going to focus specifically on widows and widowers. You are able to receive benefits as early as age 60, which is more than most. Typically, the early retirement age is age 62. Now, I mentioned previously this could be as young as age 50 if you have a disability. Now keep in mind if you do take your benefit at age 60 it is considered early retirement and your benefit would be reduced. If you wait until your full retirement age – now see our Social Security basics video for your specific year of birth which will give you your full retirement age – if you want until that age, then your benefit is no longer reduced.

As a widow, when to file depends on your specific situation. Let’s say you have children at home that you’re caring for under the age of 16. No matter what your age, you may be able to file. One thing to note, if you remarry after age 60, that will not impact your Social Security benefits. However, if you do remarry prior to age 60, that could impact some of the benefits that we’ve already discussed.

One unique aspect of being a widow when it comes to Social Security benefits is that you have the ability to either file on your benefit or your survivor benefit, and you can actually switch; if you file for one that’s lesser, you can actually switch to the other one later on. So let me give you an example. Let’s say you filed for your survivor benefits at age 60 which, as I mentioned earlier, would be at a reduced rate, but you let your personal benefit grow in the background and you let it maximize to age 70, and then at age 70 you switch to that higher benefit. At that point, that’s the benefit you’d receive for the rest of your life.

Now let’s walk through another example. Let’s switch that around and say that you take your benefit early at a reduced rate, and then you switch to your survivor benefit at your full retirement age. One reason you may want to do that is if your benefit is lower but you don’t want to take a reduced survivor benefit for the rest of your life, so you want to wait until that’s up to its full amount.

So what do you qualify for in survivor benefits? When your spouse first passes away, Social Security will give you a one-time payment of $255. As far as ongoing payments, if you wait until your full retirement age, you’ll receive 100 percent of your deceased spouse benefits. As I mentioned earlier, if you take that prior to your full retirement age, you’ll receive a reduced benefit. However, if you wait beyond your full retirement age, it doesn’t continue to grow so there’s not really much of an argument for waiting beyond that unless you’re waiting for your own benefit.

I mentioned early on that there are a number of people that qualify for benefits. One thing to note is that there is a maximum family amount that can be received which is generally between 150-180 percent of the basic rate.

One question we often get is how to know when to file and what is your break-even point. That’s a little bit difficult to do for widows given that you have such a variety of options as far as when to file so it would have to be answered based on your specific situation rather than a generalization, but we’re happy to answer that question for you. Feel free to give us a call or email us to talk more.

For now, I’m Kim Scott, and this has been Technical Tuesday.



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