A local Colorado reader wonders how she can begin claiming a Social Security survivor benefit until claiming her own full benefit at age 70.
"I am turning 65 in a couple of months. I was widowed in 2010. I would like to take my late husband's Social Security first until I turn 70. How do I do that?"
Social Security makes the process pretty simple. You just need to file an application to start the survivor benefit only. You will want to restrict your application. Although that's not technically what it's called within the system, that's what you're doing. You're making sure that you're claiming only the survivor benefit. You will want to have reached Full Retirement Age (FRA) to get the unreduced survivor benefit.
If the question comes up, you want to make it very clear that you're not filing for your own retirement benefit if you intend to wait until 70. At 70, you'll have access to all the delayed retirement credits and will switch from the survivor benefit to your retirement benefit, assuming it's larger.
Over the years, some strategies have been disallowed. However, this one is still valid – where a widow or widower can claim the survivor benefit first and then switch to an unreduced, unaffected retirement benefit later – or vice versa. (In rare cases, doing the opposite may make sense: claiming your own benefit first and then switching to the survivor benefit later.)
To file your application, you can either go online, call them or make an appointment to go into the office. Your goal is simply to make sure you're applying only for the survivor benefit you are entitled to. Social Security will most likely have records of the fact that you were married and that your husband passed away previously. Those types of events get reported to Social Security regularly, so they should be connected to you in their system. If not, you might have to produce some documentation showing you were married and showing the death of your spouse.
It's very common for people to implement this strategy, so Social Security makes it pretty straightforward. It's not as difficult as it might seem. And last I heard, you could do so on the online portal if you chose to. Alternatively, you could certainly go in or give them a call. Whichever way you choose, make sure you're starting just the survivor benefit.