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How To Secure Benefits For Your Surviving Spouse

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Do you know how to take advantage of your spouse’s Social Security benefits if they were to pass away? If not, this article is for you.

The rules around collecting Social Security benefits for a surviving spouse are complicated. And to make matters worse, laws are constantly changing. That’s why I’ve tried to break down the process into simple, easy-to-understand terms.

That said, before taking any benefits, I highly recommend speaking with a financial advisor or contacting Social Security directly to make sure laws haven’t changed since the time of writing.

Who Is Eligible For Survivor Benefits?
Before diving in, let’s briefly touch on the eligibility requirements for survivor benefits.

In order to be eligible, you must have been married for at least 9 months to a spouse who has passed away. In addition, your deceased spouse must have earned the required amount of “Social Security credits” during his or her lifetime. The number of credits needed increases with age and maxes out at 40 credits (or the equivalent of 10 years of work).

Lastly, the minimum age to start receiving survivor benefits is 60 years old (or 50 if disabled). That said, if your deceased spouse had children under the age of 16 whom you care for, you are eligible for extra benefits regardless of your age.

How To Apply For Survivor Benefits
Applying for survivor benefits is pretty straightforward. Oftentimes, the funeral home will even take care of it for you. If not, all you have to do is call Social Security directly at 1-800-772-1213 (this cannot be done online). This can also be done in person at your nearest Social Security office. (1)

Before applying, make sure to gather all the necessary documents. These include: (2)

  • Proof of death (e.g., death certificate)
  • Both of your Social Security numbers
  • Your birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate
  • Birth certificates and Social Security numbers of any dependent children
  • Your deceased spouse’s latest W-2 or tax return
  • Keep in mind that just because you apply for benefits doesn’t mean you have to start taking them right away. Depending on your situation, it may be beneficial to wait.

How To Calculate Survivor Benefits
This is where things get a bit complicated. It’s a good idea to talk with a financial advisor to see how you can maximize your benefits.

Here’s the simplified version. Your benefit amount depends on four different factors: (3)

  • Your age (The earlier you draw, the fewer benefits you receive.)
  • Whether your spouse had already started collecting benefits
  • Whether your spouse had reached full retirement age (FTA) before passing away (FTA is between 66 and 67 years old depending on birth year.)
  • Your deceased spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA) (i.e., the amount they would have received at their FRA)

Basically, by waiting for your FRA to start taking benefits, you’ll maximize the amount you receive. Depending on the factors above, your survivor benefit will be a minimum of 71.5% of your deceased spouse’s PIA. If you wait until FRA, you’ll receive 100%. (4)

One important thing to remember: although you can’t draw from both you and your spouse’s Social Security at the same time, there are strategies to increase your benefits.

For example, you could start taking the discounted survivor benefit at 60 years old, then switch to your maxed-out personal Social Security benefits when you turn 70.3

Or, depending on your situation, you may want to take the opposite approach—start drawing from your own Social Security at the minimum age of 62, then switch to the maximum survivor benefits once you reach FRA (66 or 67).3

Since everybody’s situation is unique, there is really no one “right” answer.

Your First Step
Confused yet? I hope not. As you can see, the process to secure benefits for your surviving spouse is actually quite simple. The confusing part is how to maximize those benefits. That’s why it’s critical to speak with a financial advisor to create a personalized plan to follow during difficult times. It’s better to have a clear road map before hard times hit than scrambling to figure everything out in the midst of high emotions.

If you’re interested in getting your own financial plan set up, we at Wealth Management Solutions would be happy to help. Contact us for a complimentary consultation by calling (949) 475-9700 or emailing info@wms-llc.com.

About Richard
Richard Riva is the founder of and wealth advisor and a Certified Private Wealth Advisor® at Wealth Management Solutions, LLC, an independent financial services firm based in Newport Beach, California. For more than two decades, he has specialized in managing the complex financial matters that affect high-net-worth individuals and their families. He strives to serve as a trusted advisor and fiduciary, helping clients build a strong financial plan that allows them to live a confident, complete and distinctive life. Learn more about Richard by connecting with him on LinkedIn or emailing info@wms-llc.com.

All investing involves risk including loss of principal. No strategy assures success or protects against loss.

The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to provide specific advice or recommendations for any individual.

_________

(1) https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html

(2) https://www.fool.com/retirement/2018/05/18/social-security-survivors-benefits-what-you-need-t.aspx

(3) https://www.thebalance.com/social-security-for-widows-and-widowers-2388284

(4) https://www.mfs.com/content/dam/mfs-enterprise/mfscom/sales-tools/sales-brochures/mfsp_ssrefer_gde.pdf

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