As one spouse of a married couple, you must choose when you will start collecting Social Security benefits. And when you do--whether you will receive Social Security benefits based on your own earnings or as a spouse's entitlement based on his or her social security benefits. The 'entitled spousal' amount maximizes out at 50% of the other spouse's benefits. You will naturally receive the higher of these two options.
But if your spouse is receiving social security benefits when he or she dies, you are entitled --as the surviving spouse--to 100% of his or her Social Security payment rather than the maximum 50%. In this case, you will choose the larger of that benefit or the Social Security benefit based on your own earnings. Let's consider an example.
John and Jane are married and both are collecting social security. John receives a monthly benefit of $1,200. Jane collects another $600 of monthly benefit as the 'spouse's entitlement'. This is larger than the $500 per month she would collect based on her own earnings history. If Jane survives John, she would naturally file for 100% of John's benefit--$1,200 per month.
Alternatively, if Jane's monthly benefits were $1,000 based on her own earnings history, she would not have collected the lower 'spouse's entitlement' of $600 per month while John was living. But at John's death she will file for his $1,200 monthly benefit as a spouse's entitlement, since it is greater than her own benefit.
Incidentally, your deceased spouse is not entitled to a Social Security benefit for the month he or she dies. So when the payment is made on the third of the next month, you should return it to the SSA. But as surviving spouse, you will receive a $255 death benefit.
As surviving spouse, you can begin receiving benefits as early as 60 years of age. See the Table for a summary of circumstances. Benefits are naturally reduced for beginning 'survivor benefits' before 65. See the table below for a summary.
Widows/Widowers Eligible For SS Benefits
At age 60, married at least 9 months, and not remarried before age 60.
The Social Security Benefits
100% covered worker's basic benefit for beginning at 65, ~83% at 62, and ~72% at 60.
Surviving spouses, earning more than the limit SS allows, are eligible for benefits although deductions are imposed.
What about remarriage?
If you are getting survivor benefits, you will not lose them if you remarry after you are 60 years old. However, a person applying as a widow/widower cannot receive benefits if they remarry before the age of 60 unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment.
One comment I'd like to add....
In the scenario above, if the main wage earner, John, needs his Social Security income as a major source of retirement income (for example, if he doesn't get a pension), he might want to hold off on applying for Social Security at an early age 62, and simply work a few years longer. WHY?
First, he gets a higher lifetime benefit.. even waiting a few years (and yes, working longer but with a goal in mind, right?) -- it makes a big difference in your lifetime Social Security payment.
Second, statistically, women outlive men... at John's death, Jane would get his Social Security payment (the increased payment of maybe $1400/mo because he waited a few years before he collected Social Security).
My husband is 74 and receives social security retirement benefits. I am 59. If I start collecting my benefits at 62, would I be able to shift to 50% of his benefits (which is more than my reduced benefits) at 65?
If he dies before me, would I be entitled to 100% of his benefits in place of my own?
Bob Richards says
There is a good summary here.
Once you select YOUR benefits at 62, you cannot make a switch at age 65 to HIS benefits. However, if he dies, you are entitled to 100% os his benefits.
Elsa Segura says
I read in Money Magazine, October Issue, Page 72 that if my husband collect social security at 62, I can also collect at 62 and switch to full benefits when reach 66. Is this true? Can I collect benefits through him at 62 (we will both be 62 the same year). and then full benefits via my own work at 66?
Wendy, that is very interesting. What happens if John passes soon than expected before applying? Can Jane still collect?
My husband is 53 and has ALS. I am also 53 and work at home. We have been married for 33 years. He brought home about 3x my salary. When he dies, will I be able to collect Social Security on his benefit at age 60?
if i receive social security and my husband am i entirely to receive some of his social security since it is more than mines?
gordon nybeck says
i,am 72 yrs. my wife is 63 and still working. I,am retired. wife would like to retire. We are wanting to know what our ssa would pay us., If she were to retire.on her own wages.