Q: If you start widow’s benefits at age 60, you get a lesser amount. Does it go up as you get older?
A: Before getting to the question, I want to clarify that Social Security survivors benefits can be received by a widow or widower much younger than age 60. People die at all ages and different Social Security survivors benefits can apply in different situations.
For example, survivors benefits can be payable to much younger widows or widowers if children are involved. Benefits can be paid at age 50 to a disabled widow or widower. Based on age, 60 is the youngest age to start Social Security survivors benefits as a widower or widow. The booklet “Survivors Benefits” provides an overview of benefits.
Always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family to discuss possible benefits for now or in the future.
A Social Security survivors benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher survivors benefits would be. The monthly amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit. It depends on your age and the type of survivors benefit received.
When you start Social Security survivors benefits based on age at 60, the amount is permanently reduced, other than any cost of living increases, because you are starting benefits when younger than your survivors full retirement age (FRA).
Survivors full retirement ages are different from retirement FRA but the process is similar. The percentage of benefit received depends on how many months you are away from FRA when starting benefits. Each month of delay provides a higher benefit. As with retirement, the choice is to take a smaller benefit for potentially a longer time or a higher benefit for a shorter number of years.
Using the chart for survivors full retirement age of 66, for birth years 1945 – 1956, some approximate percentages of the maximum survivors benefit for different starting ages are:
- Age 60: 71.5% because you get benefits for 72 months before FRA.
- Age 62: 81.0% because you get benefits for 48 months before FRA.
- Age 65: 95.3% because you get benefits for 12 months before FRA.
The Social Security survivors homepage has more information and links to the Survivors Planner section.
Consider your options before starting benefits, especially if you will also be eligible to receive your own Social Security retirement. For example, you could start the smaller of these benefits at a reduced rate and then, when older, such as at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit type at an unreduced rate.
Survivors estimates are not available online. If you do not receive Social Security benefits now, you can estimate potential survivors benefits for your family through your work record by creating a my Social Security account and viewing your Statement.