Dear Rusty: I am 76 years old and began collecting Social Security when I retired at the age of 62. My wife also began collecting SS when she turned 62 based on my benefits. She did not work enough to qualify on her own for Social Security benefits. My question is, how much will my wife receive after my death? Will she receive what I receive now, or will it be a percentage of the total that we both receive? Or will it be based on just my benefits alone or some other formula? Signed: An Inquisitive Senior
Dear Inquisitive: Your wife’s survivor benefit as your widow will be based upon your Social Security benefit alone. Usually a surviving spouse receives the same amount the deceased spouse was receiving at death, if that is more than the survivor is already receiving, and if the survivor has reached their full retirement age. However, in your case, if you should predecease your wife there’s a special rule which may benefit her because you claimed your benefit at age 62.
That rule says that because you claimed before your full retirement age (FRA), your wife’s benefit as your survivor should be at least 82.5% of the benefit you were entitled to at your full retirement age (66), even though you actually claimed at age 62. And because your benefit was reduced by 25% when you took it at age 62, your wife’s benefit as your widow may actually be more than you are receiving when you pass. This special rule is known as the “widow limit,” which stipulates that a surviving spouse is entitled to the greater of what the deceased was receiving while alive, or 82.5% of the deceased’s “primary insurance amount” or “PIA,” which is the amount due at full retirement age.
Here’s an example: If your FRA benefit amount was $1,500/month, then your age 62 amount when you claimed was $1,125. But due to the special rule, your wife would get $1,238 (82.5% of $1,500) instead of the reduced $1,125 amount. Of course, this example doesn’t reflect the COLA (cost of living) increases which would have been applied to your benefit over the years, but as your widow and because you claimed before your full retirement age, your wife would be entitled to at least 82.5% of your PIA if that is more than the actual amount you were receiving when you passed.
Russell Gloor is an Association of Mature American Citizens certified social security advisor. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory or email firstname.lastname@example.org.