Taking Social Security Survivors Benefits

Don TaylorDear Dr. Don,

What happens to a spouse's Social Security after that person passes away and there are no children? I was told when my husband died that I was not entitled to his Social Security unless we had children or I was of retirement age. So where does it go until I am of retirement age? I am working, so I do have an income. I am just curious.

-Rose Receives

Dear Rose,

Your survivors benefits from your husband's Social Security work record are waiting for you and will be available to you when you qualify for them in the future.

Since you aren't taking care of a child who would qualify under your husband's work record -- either because the child is younger than 16 or is disabled -- and you are not disabled, the earliest you would qualify for survivors benefits is at age 60. However, survivors benefits that start at age 60 are always reduced by 28.5%. You can receive full survivors benefits at your full retirement age as a "survivor," which may be slightly shorter than your regular full retirement age based on your work record. For example, if you were born in 1957, your full retirement age for survivors benefits is 66 and two months, and your regular full retirement age is 66 and six months.

If you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled), your remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. One thing that does affect your survivors benefits is whether you will receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security such as federal civil service, some state or local government employment or work in a foreign country.

If you receive widows or widowers benefits and you will qualify for a retirement benefit that is more than your survivors benefit, then you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This gets pretty complicated, so you should talk to a Social Security representative about your options.

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