Social Security benefits provide a much-needed financial security net that facilitates a comfortable retirement. In the unfortunate event that you lose your beloved spouse, you may qualify for their retirement benefits. Depending on the situation, you could receive more than your individual monthly benefits.
Eligibility Requirements for Spousal Benefits
To qualify for spousal survivors’ benefits, you must have been married to the deceased for at least nine months up to the time of death. However, this requirement doesn't apply if the death was accidental, or your spouse was on active military duty.
Most survivors qualify for spousal benefits when they turn 60. You may also apply from age 50 if you got disabled within seven years of your spouse's passing. Additionally, you're eligible at any age so long as any children you had with the deceased are under 16 years or disabled.
If you wait till retirement age, you'll qualify for 100% of your deceased spouse's benefits. If you claim them between age 60 and retirement, you'll receive 71.5% to 99% of the benefits. The older you are when you claim, the higher the percentage will rise.
Claiming as a disabled spouse entitles you to 71.5% of the survivor benefits. If applying to care for a disabled child or one under 16 years, you’ll receive 75% of the available benefits.
If you were already receiving social security checks, you qualify for survivor benefits only if the amount surpasses yours. Remember, you won't receive your deceased spouse's benefits in addition to yours. Social Security compares the two and then pays out whichever is higher.
Survivor benefits never surpass the amount available at full retirement. However, your account will keep accumulating delayed retirement credits worth 8% annually from your retirement age till you turn 70.
Example of How Spousal Survivor Benefits Work
Suppose you're a 60-year-old woman entitled to a full retirement benefit of $2,200 at 66 years and a current survivor benefit of $2,500. You can receive 71.5% of the spousal benefits, amounting to $1,788. You'll effectively postpone your retirement age to 70, at which point you'll be eligible for $2,904. This strategy significantly boosts your lifetime income.
Your full retirement age (FRA) depends on your year of birth. If you were born between 1955 to 1959, your FRA is 66 years and 2 to 10 months, and 67 years if born in 1960 or later. The percentage of benefits you'll claim as a spousal survivor also depends on your age.
What is the Blackout Period?
As a widow or widower, you generally start receiving spousal benefits from age 60. However, if your child with the deceased was below 16 years, you'll qualify as their caregiver no matter your age. Once your child turns 16, they'll receive the benefits directly until they turn 18 or 19 if they're still in school.
The blackout period refers to the years you’ll wait after your child turns 18 or 19 and before you turn 60 to become eligible again for spousal benefits.
Important Points to Remember
Getting remarried can affect your eligibility for spousal benefits depending on your age. You won’t qualify if you remarry before turning 60, or 50 for disabled survivors. However, you’ll regain eligibility in case the marriage ends. Remarrying after 60 years (or 50 if you’re disabled), won’t affect your access to spousal survivor benefits.
Sometimes your social security benefits might be lower if you also receive a government pension. If you didn't pay social security taxes while working, a government pension offset (GPO) deducts up to two-thirds of the accrued amount from your spousal benefits.
If you were already receiving spousal benefits when your wife or husband died, your claim automatically converts to survivor benefits after reporting the death. If there's a problem, visit your nearest social security office or call 800-772-1213. You cannot apply for survivor benefits online.
You'll need to produce specific documents to prove your eligibility. Examples include proof of citizenship, death certificate, and marriage certificate or divorce decree. While you're likely to receive spousal survivor benefits for the rest of your life, some restrictions might apply to divorced couples.
If all this is confusing to you, or you just want to ask some more questions, please reach out to us at Hapanowicz & Associates using this contact form on our website.