This interesting question came from a woman so, for convenience, the answer refers to Social Security survivors benefits for a widow. The information also applies to a widower.
Q: I did not work outside the home, but have been widowed twice. I started Social Security widows benefit at age 60 after my first husband died. Eventually I remarried, continuing those benefits, until now at age 65 was widowed for a second time. The SSA representative said I could receive a larger benefit amount from my second husband now or wait for an even higher amount at age 66. Please explain this.
A: It was excellent that this person contacted Social Security to learn about possible benefits. Social Security representatives can provide options to consider based on personal information you provide, but the decision is yours. Ask questions until you understand your options.
A person can be eligible for benefits on more than one Social Security work record. For this question, survivors benefits are possible through the work records of two deceased husbands. More routine examples are people who are eligible for retirement through their own work record and that of a spouse or through their own retirement and a suvivors record as widow or widower. When eligible on more than one record, combined benefit amounts will equal the highest individual benefit amount.
Age 60 is the earliest a widow or widower can start Social Security survivors benefits based on age. The younger you start, the larger the reduction. As with SSA retirement benefits, each month of delay in starting provides a larger monthly amount, but only up to when you reach your survivors full retirement age (FRA). Survivors FRA’s are different from retirement FRA’s.
For example, when started at age 60 the monthly reduction in survivors benefits is about 28.5 percent so this woman receives about 71.5 percent of the maximum survivors benefit amount on her first husband’s record.
Since she remarried after age 60, SSA survivors benefits through her first husband continued. These benefits cannot be paid if a person remarries before age 60, unless that marriage ends. Although possible, for simplicity it is being assumed that she did not receive SSA benefits as a spouse through her second husband’s work record.
Based on the question, she is younger than her full retirement age (FRA) for survivors benefits and SSA benefits from her second husband’s work record will be higher than those already being received.
Effective with the month of the second husband’s death, one option she has is to begin widow’s benefits through his work record immediately. These would be reduced for age. If exactly age 65, she would receive about 95.3 percent of the full amount.
Another option is that she could continue receiving only the widows benefit through her first husbands record and delay starting benefits through the second husband until she was older. That benefit amount would increase with each month of delay up to FRA when she would receive 100 percent of the amount payable through his record.
People of all ages receive monthly Social Security survivors benefits. Learn more at www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/survivors.htm.