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:
- At age 60, you could claim a widow(er) benefit while allowing your own retirement benefit to grow until 70.
- 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.