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Strategies for Widows and Widowers: Claiming Social Security Benefits Early

If you are a widow or widower, you may be eligible to claim #SocialSecurity survivor benefits based on either your own earnings record or your deceased spouse’s earnings record.

To qualify for survivor benefits, your deceased spouse must have been fully insured under social security regulations at the time of death. For most, this requires a minimum of 10 years of full-time work covered under social security. For younger individuals, this amount may be reduced.

In addition to a fully insured status, you must meet the following qualifications:

  • You had been married at least nine months prior to your spouse’s death.

  • You are at least 60 years old.

  • If you are divorced, you did not remarry prior to age 60.

  • If you are younger than 60 and caring for a child younger than 16, or you are disabled and receiving benefits, survivor benefits are available.

Survivor benefits represent 100 percent of the deceased’s social security primary insurance amount, plus any delayed retirement credits. If, however, you claim before your full retirement age (FRA)—as determined by social security rules—the benefit amount will be reduced by a maximum of 28.5 percent. This means that you can’t receive less than 71.5 percent of the full retirement benefit.

Potential Impact of the Benefit Adjustment on Survivor Benefits

Ellen is 60 and was married to Tom for 40 years when he died this year at age 71. Tom delayed claiming his social security monthly benefits until age 70. His full retirement benefit at age 66 would have been $2,000 per month. Since he waited to file until age 70, his delayed retirement credits brought his monthly social security benefit to $2,640.

Ellen is considering claiming survivor benefits but does not know whether she should claim now or wait until her FRA or some age in between. She spent time at home with their four children and has only part-time work on her record, so her worker benefit is minimal.

Should Ellen claim her benefits now? It depends on her monthly income needs. If she files now at age 60, she will receive $1,887.60 per month (28.5 percent less than the full survivor benefit of $2,640 per month).

How did we arrive at this number? Ellen has an FRA of 66, which means she will multiply the number of months she is from this age by a factor determined by the Social Security Administration (see table) to arrive at her reduced benefit.

Age 60: 72 months × 0.0039583 = 28.50%

28.50% × $2,640 = $1,887.60

Full Retirement AgeFactor 650.00475660.0039583670.0033928

What if Ellen decides to wait a year or more to file? How will that affect her benefit? The following calculations show how the benefit reduction adjusts over time the closer she gets to her FRA.

Age 61: 60 months × 0.0039583 = 23.75%

23.75% × $2,640 = $2,013.00

Age 62: 48 months × 0.0039583 = 18.99%

18.99% × $2,640 = $2,138.66

Age 63: 36 months × 0.0039583 = 14.25%

14.25% × $2,640 = $2,263.80

Age 64: 24 months × 0.0039583 = 9.50%

9.50% × $2,640 = $2,389.20

Age 65: 12 months × 0.0039583 = 4.75%

4.75% × $2,640 = $2,514.60

Understanding the potential impacts of early filing for survivor benefits allows you to make an informed decision—and build a more comfortable retirement. Let us help you arrive at the decision that best meets your needs.


This material has been provided for general informational purposes only and does not constitute either tax or legal advice. Although we go to great lengths to make sure our information is accurate and useful, we recommend you consult a tax preparer, professional tax advisor, or lawyer. © Copyright 2020 Commonwealth Financial Network®. Presented by Dan Romaine. Dan Romaine is a financial advisor at Blue Hills Wealth Management. BHWM is located at 300 Crown Colony Drive, Quincy MA. Dan can be reached at 617-471-6800 or Securities and advisory services offered through Commonwealth Financial Network, Member, FINRA/SIPC a registered investment advisor. Fixed insurance products and services and College Planning services offered by Blue Hills Wealth Management and College Funding Solutions are separate and unrelated to Commonwealth.


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