I am a 68-year-old retired male and had planned on waiting until age 70 to begin collecting Social Security benefits. My wife is currently 53 years old. When I die, would my wife’s spousal benefit at her full retirement age be equal to what I would be receiving at age 70, or be reduced?
Also, if I were to die before 70 and before collecting Social Security, what would be my wife’s survivor benefit at her full retirement age?
Dear Older Husband:
Your wife’s survivor benefit as your widow will depend upon two things — the amount you were receiving (or were eligible to receive) at your death, and the age at which she claims her survivor benefit as your widow.
If you were receiving an increased benefit because you waited until age 70, your wife’s benefit — if she has reached her full retirement age — will be 100% of the amount you were receiving at your death. If she hasn’t yet reached her full retirement age when she claims her survivor benefit (she could claim as early as age 60) the benefit will be actuarially reduced according to the number of months prior to her full retirement age that she claims it.
The amount of reduction for claiming her survivor benefit before her full retirement age is 0.396% for each full month earlier, which is 4.75% per year earlier than her full retirement age (FRA), to a maximum of 28.5%. And for clarity, your wife isn’t required to take the survivor benefit immediately upon your death; she can wait until the benefit reaches 100% at her full retirement age, if desired and if financially feasible.
If your wife also is eligible for a Social Security benefit on her own work record and you die before she reaches her full retirement age, she will have the choice to take either her own Social Security benefit or her survivor benefit from you. If her survivor benefit will be her highest possible benefit, she would have the option to take her own retirement benefit from her own work record first and delay taking the larger survivor benefit until it reaches maximum at her full retirement age.
Or, if her own benefit at age 70 would be more than her survivor benefit from you, she could take the smaller survivor benefit first and delay taking her own Social Security benefit until it reaches maximum at age 70 and switch to her own benefit at that time. The goal is for her to get the highest possible benefit for the rest of her life.
Finally, if you were to die before you started collecting your increased Social Security benefit at age 70, your wife would still have the same options, but her survivor benefit amount would be based upon the amount you were eligible to receive at your death, even though you were not yet collecting.
In other words, all those delayed retirement credits you are now earning (and will continue to earn until you are 70) will not be lost — the benefit you have earned up to the point you die will be what your wife’s survivor benefit is based upon.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
The 2.1 million member Association of Mature American Citizens [AMAC] www.amac.us is a non-profit, non-partisan senior advocacy organization representing its membership in our nation’s capital and in local Congressional Districts throughout the country. The AMAC Foundation (www.AmacFoundation.org) is the association’s non-profit organization, which is dedicated to supporting and educating America’s seniors.