When Should I Collect Social Security Survivor’s Benefits?



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Today’s question comes from Carmen:
“My husband passed away at age 60. He was collecting $2,100 a month in Social Security disability. I turn 60 in three years. How much can I collect from his benefits? My own Social Security benefits will be about $750 at my full retirement age (FRA) of 67.”
The downside of collecting early
Carmen, as a widow you indeed can start collecting a survivor’s benefit as early as age 60. In contrast, the earliest you can collect Social Security retirement benefits is age 62.

Since your husband was receiving disability benefits, those benefits would reflect his FRA amount. If you claimed widow’s benefits at your FRA of 67, you would receive $2,100 a month. If you claimed them at age 60, you would receive only $1,500 a month.
In other words, there is an early claiming penalty of 28.5% if you claim at age 60. The penalty declines with increases in the claiming age, falling to zero at your FRA. For a detailed table showing the early claiming penalties at various times for those with a full retirement age of 67 (those born in 1962 or later), go to the Social Security Administration website. (That webpage also includes a link to information for those with a different birth year.)

A couple of things to note:
First, widow’s benefits reach a maximum at your FRA, so nothing is gained if you wait beyond age 67.
Second, if you remarry prior to turning 60, you are no longer eligible for survivor’s benefits on your deceased husband’s record. If you remarry after age 60, you retain eligibility for widow’s benefits.
In order to offer more concrete advice, I ran your information through my company’s software. If you have a shorter life expectancy than average of around 78, claiming widow’s benefits at age 60 is optimal. However, with a normal life expectancy of about 86, our analysis suggests that you should claim retirement benefits at age 62 (receiving $525 a month), and then switch to widow’s benefits at age 65 (receiving about $1,950 in benefits).
With a longer life expectancy of 92 years, our advice is about the same as for the normal case: claim retirement at 62 and then claim widow’s benefits at 66 (receiving $2,025 a month).
Carmen’s situation provides yet another example of how some inexpensive professional advice can prove very helpful in planning claiming strategies.
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About me
I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.
In 2009, I co-founded SocialSecurityChoices.com, an internet company that provides advice on Social Security claiming decisions. You can learn more about that by clicking here.

Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the Social Security Administration alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.
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