Survivorship and Widows Benefit Options


Lately I’ve had several cases pertaining to divorce or survivorship benefits, this can be an extremely confusing due to Social Security law changes that took place back in 2015.

Divorced Claiming Options

  • Must have been married for at least 10 consecutive years to the same person
  • Must be currently unmarried
  • If you claim benefits prior to FRA (Full Retirement Age) and are still working, you are subject to the Earning Test (lose $1 for every $2 you earn above $17,640 per year)
  • If you were born prior to 1954 you can claim divorced spousal benefits at FRA while postponing your own benefits until age 70 (Restricted Claiming Option), as long as your ex is at least 62 years of age
  • If you were born after 1/1/1954 the Restricted Claiming Option is not available, which means you cannot claim spousal benefits while postponing your own benefits until 70.  You must claim either the greater of your spousal benefits (50% of ex spouses) or your own

Observation:  As you can see this change really affects an individual born after 1953, should they decide to postpone claiming on their own record in order to maximize lifetime benefits, they must find another source of income while they delay!

Survivorship Claiming Options

  • Must have been married for at least 1 year if still married
  • If divorced, must have been married to the deceased for at least 10 years
  • OK to remarry, but must wait until you are 60 years of age before marrying
  • The Earning Test is still in play whether you receive your own or survivorship benefits
  • Being born after 1953 does not apply as it does for spousal or divorced benefits, thus an individual CAN claim survivorship benefits as early as age 60 while postponing their own benefits until age 70
  • Since you have the ability to claim at age 60, this presents a number of claiming decisions that need to be explored prior to making any decisions;
    • In order to receive the Full Survivorship benefits you must wait until reaching FRA, thus if you claim at age 60 you’ll only receive 71.5% of full benefit and you’ll be subject to this reduction for the rest of your life or until you switch to your own benefits
    • You can switch to your own benefit at age 70 if it is greater than your survivorship benefits
    • If your survivorship benefits are greater than your own benefits, you might be better off claiming your own benefits at age 62 and delay claiming your survivorship until reaching your FRA and collect 100% of your deceased spouses benefits

Observation:  The real key to claiming survivorship benefits is looking at both your own benefits and your Suvivorship Benefits at FRA.  If your own benefits are greater, than you might claim survivorship benefits at age 60 and delay claiming your own benefits at age 70.  If your Survivorship benefits will be greater than you own benefits at FRA, you might claim your own benefits at age 62 while delaying claiming survivorship benefits until FRA.

3 Dimensional Chess – What if…………..

  • Multiple marriages that lasted 10 years
  • Ex Spouse who remarries
  • Ex Spouse who dies prior to your claiming on your own benefits
  • Ex Spouse not in the best of health
  • Personal health and family longevity
  • Retiring early before qualifying for Medicare
  • Going back to work after claiming benefits before FRA

No Mulligans

You want to make sure your making the correct decision before claiming any benefits!  Over a lifetime there can be a cumulative difference of several hundred thousand dollars, between proper and improper claiming, so please, please, please don’t hesitate contacting me, if you think I can be of assistance.

Take care and never hesitate reaching out if you think I be of assistance,

Dave Zander, CFP®