Widows Should File Carefully for Social Security Survivor Benefits

Widow Signing Social Security Survivor Benefits Paperwork

Widows can maximize Social Security benefits with the right guidance.

Social Security can be complicated and frustrating for anyone. When you’re a recent widow, Social Security survivor benefits can seem especially overwhelming. You’re not only sorting through rules and paperwork; you’re also sorting through new emotions and situations.

It’s a tough time to have to figure out how to apply, so we wanted to share some key ideas to keep in mind once you decide to file for your and/or your spouse’s monthly benefits. It may just help you generate more income over your lifetime.

Are You Eligible for Widow’s Social Security Survivor Benefits?

Depending on your situation, you may not know which benefits you are eligible for or which ones to take and when. For starters, you may be eligible for widow’s survivor benefits* as long as you meet these conditions:

  •      You were married for at least 9 months (waived if caring for child of deceased spouse who is under the age of 16)
  •      You are at least 60 years old (age 50 if you are disabled, or at any age if caring for child of deceased spouse who is under the age of 16)

You may also be able collect an immediate one-time death benefit* payment of $255 at any age.

In general, the longer you wait to collect survivor benefits, the more you may receive. As with traditional social security benefits, there is a survivor full retirement age (FRA)*; however, it may be different than the FRA for your own benefits, so it’s important to check both.

If you decide to collect right away and you are not at your FRA, then you may receive a reduced amount* each month.

Of course, you may not be eligible for widow’s Social Security survivor benefits if you’re already collecting your own Social Security. More on that below.

Other Eligibility Requirements for Widow’s Survivor Benefits*

Whether or not you qualify to receive survivor benefits also depends on a few more factors. For example:

  •      If You Both Started Claiming – If you and your spouse had already been receiving your benefits before the death occurred, then the higher benefit amount becomes the survivor benefit. The lower of the two amounts will be stopped.
  •      If Your Deceased Spouse Had Begun Benefits, But You Had Not – You may be able to claim the survivor benefit and then stop when you claim your own social security benefits at a later age. However, this situation can be tricky, so we recommend speaking with a qualified financial advisor about your specific situation.
  •      If Neither of You Had Started Claiming – This situation can also be tough to navigate on your own. In general, to maximize your benefits, you may want to delay applying for social security benefits for the higher of the two incomes. For example, if you have the lower of the two incomes, then you may be able to maximize your benefits by filing for your own social security now – and then filing for the spousal benefit at the FRA in the chart above, in which case you may receive the full amount your spouse would have received if he or she were alive.

Again, social security is tremendously complicated. If you file for survivor or social security benefits, then you may not be able to collect other benefits later on. We highly recommend speaking with a financial advisor, tax professional and the Social Security Administration to gain a well-rounded view of your financial options.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.
*   criteria for benefits mentioned are according to the Social Security Administration at the time of this blog being published. Conditions can change at any time, please consult the Social Security Administration website at www.saa.gov, or speak with a qualified financial advisor.

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