Social Security Matters: Ask Rusty – Grieving husband asks about his survivor benefits

Published 3:36 pm Wednesday, July 10, 2024

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

Dear Rusty: My wife died May 4, 2024. I notified Social Security, and they have removed the direct deposit made to my joint checking account on May 8, 2024. What are my options now for obtaining any benefits from my wife’s Social Security account? Signed: Grieving Husband

Dear Grieving Husband: Please accept our sincere condolences for the loss of your wife. Rest assured that we’re here to assist with any Social Security questions you may have at this difficult time.

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FYI, a person must live the entire month to be eligible for Social Security benefits for that month (Social Security benefits aren’t paid for the month a person dies). For this reason, and as a matter of standard protocol, Social Security instructed the bank to return any payments received for your wife after her death. This is often referred to as the “claw back” rule.

In some circumstances, however, Social Security “claws back” money which rightfully belongs to the deceased, as they did in this case. Your wife’s Social Security payment received on May 8th was her payment for the month of April, and she was fully entitled to that payment because she lived for the entire month of April. I suggest that you download, fill out, and submit Form SSA-1724 to your local Social Security office to recover that May 8th payment, which rightfully belongs to your wife’s estate. Note that the bank will automatically return any future Social Security payments received for your wife.

As your wife’s surviving spouse, you are also entitled to a one-time lump sum “death benefit” of $255, which you can request by calling your local Social Security field office (get the number at, or by calling 1-800-772-1213. During that call you can also explore whether you are entitled to any additional Social Security benefit as a surviving spouse.

If your wife’s monthly Social Security retirement benefit was more than your current monthly Social Security benefit, you will be entitled to receive her higher monthly amount instead of your own smaller amount (FYI, if you haven’t yet reached your own full retirement age your survivor benefit will be reduced). And if you are not yet collecting your own Social Security benefit, you have the option to claim your survivor benefit from your wife first while allowing your personal Social Security retirement benefit to continue to grow, up to maximum at age 70 if you like.

Just be aware that if you haven’t yet reached your full retirement age (FRA) and you are still working, any Social Security benefit you take before your FRA will be subject to Social Security’s “earnings test” which limits how much can be earned before they take away some of your Social Security benefits. The 2024 annual earnings limit is $22,320 (changes annually) for those who claim prior to the year they attain full retirement age, and Social Security will take away $1 of benefits for every $2 over the annual limit. The “earnings test” no longer applies after you reach your full retirement age.