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RETIREMENT PLANNING
Social Security Survivor Benefits
written by Mike Ballew February 18, 2024
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While nothing can ease the pain of losing a spouse, Social Security survivor benefits can help with your finances. In the event your spouse passes away, you will receive their Social Security instead of your own if theirs was greater.

Social Security survivor benefits are based on the retirement benefit that your spouse was receiving when they passed, or the benefit they were eligible to receive if they had not yet started Social Security. Although 62 is the earliest age of eligibility for Social Security retirement benefits, you can receive survivor benefits as early as age 60.

Full Retirement Age

Social Security full retirement age is based on the year that you were born, but for most people it’s either 66 or 67. It comes into play when the SSA (Social Security Administration) computes your Social Security benefits.

If you begin taking Social Security before you reach full retirement age, your benefit will be permanently reduced. If you delay taking Social Security until after full retirement age, your benefit will be permanently increased. The latest you can begin taking Social Security is age 70.

The same principal holds true for Social Security survivor benefits, but the calculation is slightly different. You can learn more at ssa.gov.

Spouse Definition

Social Security survivor benefits are only for legally-married couples. To be eligible for survivor benefits, the marriage must have lasted at least nine months at the time of your spouse's passing.

Ex-spouses are also eligible for survivor benefits. If you are divorced and have not yet remarried, you can receive survivor benefits as long as the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The benefit is cut to 50 percent of what it would have been had you still been married. The marital status of your ex has no bearing on your survivor benefits, and your claim as an ex-spouse has no effect on any existing spouse if your ex had remarried.

Social Security Survivor Benefits Example

Suppose you and your spouse are retired and drawing Social Security benefits. Your monthly benefit is $2,000 and your spouse’s monthly benefit is $1,500. If your spouse passes away, their checks will stop coming and your benefit will remain the same at $2,000 per month.

Now let’s suppose that the roles are reversed. Your monthly benefit is $1,500 and your spouse’s is $2,000. In the event of your spouse’s passing, your checks will stop coming and you will begin receiving the $2,000 monthly benefit.

Bottom Line

Nobody wants to think about losing their spouse. If that happens, money will be the last thing on your mind. Fortunately, the SSA gets this part right. You don’t have to fill out a mountain of forms or do anything to begin receiving survivor benefits, it happens automatically once SSA has been notified of your spouse’s passing. Funeral directors typically contact SSA on your behalf, but if no memorial service is planned you can contact SSA at 800-772-1213.

Photo credit: Freepik Eggstack News will never post an article influenced by an outside company or advertiser. Our mission is to help you overcome uncertainty about retirement planning and inspire confidence in your financial future.
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MIKE BALLEW
Eggstack founder, Financial Planning Association member, engineer, and software developer.