IF YOUR SPOUSE dies, you can receive his or her benefit as a survivor benefit. The larger your spouse’s benefit, the more you receive.
Keep a few key details in mind. If you’re at your full retirement age or later, you will be entitled to 100% of your spouse’s benefit as a survivor benefit. If you claim earlier, there will be a reduction. There are slight differences between the full retirement age for regular Social Security benefits and the full retirement age for survivor benefits.
Unless you care for a child who is under age 16 or who is disabled, or you’re disabled yourself, you can’t claim survivor benefits before age 60. If you claim at age 60, your survivor benefit will be 28.5% less than your deceased spouse’s benefit. Unmarried children may also be eligible for benefits, possibly up until age 19, or if they’re disabled.
When your spouse dies and you claim your survivor benefit, you lose any spousal benefit you were receiving, so your total household income will drop. You also can’t receive both survivor benefits and a benefit based on your own earnings record at the same time, but you can switch between the two. One strategy: If you’re in your 60s, you might claim survivor benefits right away—but put off claiming your own benefit until age 70, at which point it might potentially be larger than your survivor benefit, thanks to the credits you receive for delaying. Alternatively, you might claim benefits based on your own earnings record at age 62, while delaying survivor benefits until your full Social Security retirement age, which would be 66 or 67.
One modest financial item: A surviving spouse is eligible to receive a $255 onetime payment from Social Security.
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