Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – Will claiming early affect my wife’s survivor benefit?

Published 4:10 pm Sunday, July 17, 2022

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

Dear Rusty: My wife will be turning 62 and eligible to collect Social Security this year. We realize it will be a reduced amount. I am 52 and have been the sole income earner for most of the last 20 years. We also have an adopted son who will be turning 14 this year. We realize he will receive a dependent benefit until he turns 18 and this may make the case for filing early. I am confused about widow benefits – will my wife’s early filing affect her widow’s benefit amount? Signed: Confused Husband

Dear Confused Husband: When your wife claims her own Social Security retirement benefit (e.g., at 62) will have no effect on the benefit available to her as your widow. The only thing that would affect her survivor benefit as your widow is her age when she claims it. Claimed before her FRA, her survivor benefit would be reduced, but claimed at or after her FRA, your wife’s survivor benefit as your widow will be 100% of the amount you were receiving (or, if you are not yet collecting, the amount you were entitled to receive) at your death. Your wife would get that amount, instead of her smaller personal amount.

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However, for your awareness, your wife’s spousal benefit while you are both living (which she can claim when you start your own Social Security benefit) will be less than half of your FRA benefit amount because she claimed her own Social Security retirement benefit at age 62. The reason is that your wife’s benefit as your spouse when you claim will consist of her own reduced Social Security retirement benefit, plus a spousal boost to bring her payment up to her spousal entitlement. Since her spousal boost will be added to her own reduced early benefit, her total payment as your spouse will be less than 50% of your FRA benefit amount.

If your wife claims her own Social Security retirement benefit at age 62, she can also apply for your adopted minor son’s benefits based on her personal lifetime work record. Although your wife’s personal early benefit will be cut (by 30%) for claiming at age 62, your son’s benefit as your wife’s minor child will be based on your wife’s full retirement age (FRA) benefit amount. Your son’s benefit from your wife will be 50% of your wife’s FRA amount (not her age 62 amount). As you know, your son will get that amount until he is 18 (or 19 if he is still in high school).