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Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – Widow unsure about her Social Security benefits

by AMAC Certified Social Security Advisor Russell Gloor, Association of Mature American Citizens

Dear Rusty: I am looking for information on my Social Security survivor benefits from my husband. I just turned 65 and have been collecting my Social Security widow’s benefit since I was 60. Someone told me that I should take my own Social Security and half of my deceased husband’s. I am not sure if that’s what I should do. Should I stay as I am until age 70 and then look into this option? Is it even an option? I’m just not sure. I work part time because the widow’s benefit just isn’t enough to pay my bills. I know there must be others out there as unsure as I am. Signed: Unsure Widow

Dear Unsure Widow: It appears that you have been given some inconsistent information. If you are currently collecting a widow’s benefit from your deceased husband and have been since you were 60 years old, you cannot “take my own Social Security and half of my husband’s.” You only have two options now – to continue your current surviving widow’s benefit (which was reduced because you claimed it before your full retirement age), or to claim your own SS retirement benefit if that is more.

If you are now collecting your survivor benefit (only), your benefit from your own work record is still growing. The key question is whether your own benefit from your own work record will ever be more than you are now collecting from your deceased husband as his widow. If your own SS retirement benefit will be more, you can switch to it whenever it has grown to be more than your current widow’s benefit. Your own benefit will reach maximum at age 70, so never wait beyond that to claim it. But if your current survivor benefit as a widow is more than your own benefit will be at any age, you should simply stay on that widow’s benefit.

The easiest way to find this information out is to request a Statement of Estimated Benefits from Social Security. That statement will show you the amounts you are due on your own at your full retirement age and also at age 70 (if you were born in 1955 your FRA is 66 plus 2 months). If either or both of those amounts are more than your widow’s benefit, you can continue to collect your widow’s benefit until it makes financial sense to switch to your own. To request your Benefits Statement, contact Social Security directly at 1.800.772.1213, or your local office (find it at www.ssa.gov/locator). You can also get this online if you have a “my Social Security” account, and which you can create at www.ssa.gov/myaccount.

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