Most people don’t like to talk about death. But an important part of your financial health is what happens to your Social Security benefits when a spouse dies.
To qualify for survivor benefits:
- Survivor must be at least 60 and unmarried, or 50 if disabled
- You must be married at least 9 months, except in the case of an accident.
- A former spouse can collect a survivor benefit if they have been married for at least 10 years
- Eligible children under the age of 16 may also receive a survivor’s benefit, worth up to 75% of the decedent’s benefit
- Cannot apply online
To confirm eligibility, you will need the following documents:
- Proof of death, either from a funeral home or death certificate
- Your Social Security number, as well as that of your deceased spouse
- your birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate if you are a widow or widower
- Social Security numbers and birth certificates of dependent children
- Your deceased spouse’s W-2 forms or most recent year’s federal self-employment tax return
Summary of relevant elements:
- Considered separate from your own retirement benefit – this benefit is paid to a spouse, former spouse, and small children
- Survivors must apply for the $255 lump sum death benefit within two years of the spouse’s date of death. To report a death or apply for survivor benefits, call or visit your local Social Security office.
- Anytime there is a survivor benefit involved, you should always consider taking one of the two benefits as soon as possible. You can choose to claim the survivor benefit and switch to your own worker benefit later if it is advantageous, or vice versa
- If you apply before your full retirement age, the benefit will be reduced
- If you remarry before age 60, you cannot receive a survivor benefit
- If you remarry after age 60, you will still be eligible for the survivor benefit
- Annual earnings limit of $21,240 for 2023 applies if you have not reached your full retirement age
- If you have another government pension, the Government Pension Compensation (GPO) will apply, but the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) will not apply.
- There is no advantage to waiting to begin collecting survivor benefits after reaching full retirement age.
- Return the spouses’ Social Security retirement check received in the month of death
- If you are receiving a spousal benefit, that benefit ends
What will you receive:
- If your deceased spouse HAS NOT APPLIED for benefits and died BEFORE FULL RETIREMENT AGE, you are entitled to receive the decedent’s full retirement age benefit
- If your deceased spouse HAS NOT APPLIED for benefits and died AFTER FULL RETIREMENT AGE, you are entitled to receive the decedent’s benefit as if you had applied on the date of death.
- If your deceased spouse DID APPLY for benefits BEFORE FULL RETIREMENT AGE, you are entitled to receive what your spouse was receiving or 82.5% of your deceased spouse’s full retirement age benefit
- If your deceased spouse DID APPLY FOR benefits ON OR AFTER FULL RETIREMENT AGE, you are entitled to receive what the deceased was receiving on the date of death
- Please note that if you apply for survivor benefits before your full retirement age, the benefit will be adjusted based on your filing age and, as mentioned above, the annual income limitation will apply.
There is a new bill introduced in the House that would provide the surviving spouse with a benefit equal to 75% of the combined Social Security benefits received by the couple before the spouse’s death. Now, a surviving spouse receives the greater of the two benefits she receives and the lesser benefit disappears. It’s not law yet, but it would be a significant benefit to the surviving spouse.
I hope these important highlights help clarify your decision-making process regarding survivor benefits. Remember, take the wrong profit at the wrong time, it is always smaller and forever. You need to get your claim strategy right the first time.