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  • Writer's pictureChris Stein, CFP®

Converting Spousal Benefits to Survivor Benefits

This next question is something we have not really addressed directly before regarding spousal and survivor benefits, so I really appreciate the person submitting the following:

“If someone began claiming a spousal benefit before their FRA and their spouse dies, can the surviving spouse continue to receive the spousal benefit and wait until their survivor FRA to claim the survivor benefit?”

No Spousal Benefit

The first, most direct issue is that no, one can no longer collect a spousal benefit on a deceased person’s Social Security record.  However, there are two ways a person could delay turning on the survivor benefit to their full retirement age (FRA).  The reason for doing this is to collect in the future, the highest survivor benefit possible.  If the benefit is claimed prior to your FRA the benefit is permanently reduced.

Just Say No

The first way a person could delay receiving the survivor benefit is to simply advise the Social Security office that you do NOT want to start the survivor benefit.  The down side is the spousal benefit will stop the month your spouse dies, potentially leaving you with no benefit at all until your reach FRA.

Own Earned Retirement Benefit

The second way is available if you have your own earned retirement benefit.  Upon the death of your spouse, you can advise the SSA to pay you your own retirement benefit for now, and then switch to the higher survivor benefit at your FRA.  Your own benefit may be higher or lower than the spousal benefit you were receiving, but it is available as a stand-alone benefit that does not impact your decision on when to claim the survivor benefit.  There is no requirement that you file for the survivor benefit immediately after your spouse’s death.

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