New Here? Get the Free Newsletter

Oblivious Investor offers a free newsletter providing tips on low-maintenance investing, tax planning, and retirement planning. Join over 11,000 email subscribers:

Articles are published Monday and Friday. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Social Security Planning with Widow(er) Benefits

A reader writes in, asking:

“My husband passed away in 2009. I’m currently 59. Do the claiming strategies discussed in your book change at all for somebody who would be receiving widow benefits instead of spouse benefits?”

Yes, they do change. The easiest way to explain the difference, though, is to first back up and discuss a rule that applies to couples in which both spouses are still alive.

Prior to reaching full retirement age, if you are eligible for your own retirement benefit and a spousal benefit, and you file for either of the two, you are automatically “deemed” to have filed for the other benefit as well. You have no choice in the matter.

After reaching full retirement age, however, deemed filing no longer applies. And that’s why the typical claiming strategies start at full retirement age rather than at age 62. For example, after reaching full retirement age, one spouse can file a restricted application for spousal benefits only while allowing his/her own retirement benefit to continue growing until age 70.

Deemed Filing Doesn’t Apply to Widow(er) Benefits

The deemed filing rule does not, however, apply to widow(er) benefits. As a result, there are two possible Social Security claiming strategies that often make sense for somebody whose spouse has passed away:

  1. At age 60, you could claim a widow(er) benefit while allowing your own retirement benefit to grow until 70.
  2. Or, you could claim your own retirement benefit at 62 while allowing your widow(er) benefit to grow until full retirement age.

There are exceptions of course, but it’s often advantageous to allow the larger benefit to continue growing until it maxes out (either at FRA or at age 70, depending upon which benefit it is) and to claim the other (smaller) benefit as early as possible.

Considering a Second Marriage?

Also of note: If you get remarried before age 60, you will (except in cases of disability) lose eligibility for widow(er) benefits based on your first spouse’s work record.

Of course, the usefulness of this information varies greatly depending on the age at which you find your new partner. If you’re only 50, waiting for 10 years is probably not the most palatable option. But if you’re 59 ½ and weighing the pros and cons of various wedding dates, it’s probably worth including Social Security in the discussion.

Want to Learn More about Social Security? Pick Up a Copy of My Book:

Social Security Made Simple: Social Security Retirement Benefits and Related Planning Topics Explained in 100 Pages or Less
Topics Covered in the Book:
  • How retirement benefits, spousal benefits, and widow(er) benefits are calculated,
  • How to decide the best age to claim your benefit,
  • How Social Security benefits are taxed and how that affects tax planning,
  • Click here to see the full list.

A Testimonial from a Reader on Amazon:

"An excellent review of various facts and decision-making components associated with the Social Security benefits. The book provides a lot of very useful information within small space."

Comments

  1. Mike,

    Does the widow(er) benefit max out at the widow(er)’s full retirement age, meaning that there is not an opportunity to increase the benefit by waiting to age 70? Thanks!

  2. Hi Ryan.

    Yes, like spousal benefits, widow/widower benefits max out at the FRA of the person claiming them.

  3. Mike – thanks for confirming!

  4. Mike

    Many thanks for that information.

    It can be difficult talking about mortality issues, which is another reason to be aware of these pitfalls ahead of time. Nobody wants to be eligible for widow[er] benefits, but not knowing these rules could turn personal tragedy into financial tragedy.

    Right after the loss of a loved one is a tough time to be making ANY decision, it is better to be prepared with – at the least – knowledge of where the pitfalls lie.

    Deemed filing is the biggest pitfall I didn’t know about until not that long ago.

    Regards,

    Jim

Disclaimer: By using this site, you explicitly agree to its Terms of Use and agree not to hold Simple Subjects, LLC or any of its members liable in any way for damages arising from decisions you make based on the information made available on this site. I am not a financial or investment advisor, and the information on this site is for informational and entertainment purposes only and does not constitute financial advice.

Copyright 2014 Simple Subjects, LLC - All rights reserved. To be clear: This means that, aside from small quotations, the material on this site may not be republished elsewhere without my express permission. Terms of Use and Privacy Policy