Social Security survivor benefits can create confusion. When one spouse dies, the amount you receive will change. Today, we try to clarify how this can impact your retirement.

Video: Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits

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Scenario 1: You Are Both Receiving Social Security Benefits

This is the simplest part of Social Security survivor benefits. When the first spouse dies, the highest benefit continues, and the lower payment stops.

Survivor Benefits Social Security
Social Security Survivor Benefits

Scenario 2: Neither of You Are Receiving Social Security Benefits

This is where Social Security survivor benefits start to get complicated.
Neither Ron nor Sara are receiving their benefits. Ron dies first. If Sara is at least age 60, she can claim a survivor benefit based on Ron’s earnings.
She qualifies for a survivor benefit based on Ron’s normal retirement age. So if Ron’s full benefit was $2,250, Sara’s survivor benefit is based on that amount.
Ron was past his normal retirement age when he died. He had not started his Social Security when he passed. The survivor benefit qualifies for delayed retirement credits.
For example, Ron was 68 when he died. He had not started Social Security. His normal retirement age is 66. Now the survivor benefit increases by 16%.  
But, if Sara claims a survivor benefit, her age will also be a factor. If she is younger than her normal retirement age, her benefits get reduced.
The surviving spouse can also claim a survivor benefit and later switch to their own benefit if it is more. Let’s say Sara dies first. Ron claims a survivor benefit on Sara’s record. Then, in the future, he can switch to his own benefit plus any delayed retirement credits.

Scenario 3: One Spouse Receiving Social Security, The Other Is Not

If the surviving spouse was receiving Social Security, here is how it works.
They can continue their own benefit, or if a survivor benefit is more, they can switch to a survivor benefit.
Sara is 63 years old and had started her Social Security early. Ron was still working, and had not begun his benefits. Sara can continue her benefit if she desires.
If at age 66—when she is at full retirement age—she can switch to the survivor benefit without any discounts.
What if the surviving spouse had not started benefits? They would be able to continue to receive a survivor benefit. At a later time, they can switch to their own if it is more.
Sara started her Social Security and passed away. Ron can continue that as a survivor benefit. Then, when he reaches full retirement age—or older, he can switch to his own benefit.

Would You Like To Discuss Your Situation?

Social Security has a lot of complexity and moving parts. This can create confusion.

If you would like to talk about your situation, click on the button. You can create a plan to better use Social Security benefits in your retirement.

There is no cost to have a conversation.  Click below to get started. Schedule a time with a Certified Financial Planner Professional­™ Today.

Financial Planning

Neal Watson is a Certified Financial Planner™ Professional and a Financial Advisor with Fleming Watson Financial Advisors  He typically works with people who are planning for retirement.  

Fleming Watson is a Registered Investment Advisory firm located in Marietta Ohio. 

Our firm primarily serves Marietta, Parkersburg, Vienna, Williamstown, and the surrounding communities in Washington, Noble, Wood and Pleasants counties.

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