survivor benefits
February 14, 2018 | by Chris Stein, CFP®, Finance Instructor at Colorado State University
Disability and Survivor Benefits

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We received the following question regarding Social Security Disability and Survivor benefits recently:

“My spouse receives Social Security disability and has for several years. I worked full time and then went to part time as I now have his responsibilities as well as my own. His situation worsened and I gave up working in 2015. He is 58 yrs old. I am about to turn 62. If I retire early on my benefits and something happens to him what is the percentage of his benefits that I qualify for? I can’t seem to get a chart with clear info on that. If I wait until FRA (full retirement age) would I qualify for 100% of his benefits? His disability benefit is higher than what my benefit would be if I file at FRA. Can I file for my benefits now and switch to his at my FRA even though he will not be FRA? Social Security is very confusing!”

Let me tackle this series of questions one at a time.

Retiring Early

If you retire early it will not directly affect how much of his benefit you receive if he passes away. Your age when you switch to his survivor benefit determines how much you will get.  If you are still younger than your full retirement age, the survivor benefit will be reduced IF YOU CLAIM IT.  If you delay to your full retirement age before switching then you will get 100% of his benefit.

Either Your Own Benefit or a Spousal Benefit

When you turn 62 you are eligible to receive a retirement benefit. You can collect either your own benefit, or any spousal benefit to which you may be entitled.  Normally you would have to wait until he has claimed his own retirement benefit to claim a spousal benefit, but since he is already receiving disability benefits you are entitled to a spousal benefit upon reaching 62.  The question will be whether your own benefit is higher than the spousal, which is based on 50% of his benefit.  You don’t supply the actual dollar amounts, but whichever benefit is higher will be the one that Social Security will pay you.

Can’t Switch

You cannot start your own then switch to his (spousal) benefit later. Since he is already claiming a benefit you will be paid whichever benefit is higher when you go in to apply (either your own or your spousal benefit on his record).  The only benefit you can choose to put off and claim later if you start your own is a survivor benefit, which of course is not available while he is alive.

Hope this clears things up.  I would encourage you to consider a Social Security optimization analysis to make sure you are maximizing what you can receive during retirement.  We offer this type of analysis, or there are several other programs available that could help guide your decisions when coordinating these several different benefits.

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