Do you ever wonder whether you’re receiving the highest Social Security benefit that you’re supposed to? If you answered yes, you’re not alone.
Many people have this question however all too often in the past they have found it too difficult to investigate.
Especially for those over 70 and that originally claimed benefits on their own record (as opposed to as a spouse) one of the biggest surprises that many run into is finding out that they should have filed for a survivor benefit when their spouse passed away but they didn’t.
And the Social Security Administration does not proactively let you know that you should be filing for a higher benefit. You have to be aware of this and then file an application to receive the higher benefit. Social Security survivor benefits are NOT paid to you automatically.
In order to be eligible for benefits as a survivor, you must have been married to the deceased for at least 9 months before their death and must be at least 60 years old.
So, how do Social Security survivor benefits work? Depending on your age and other factors, survivors are entitled to the highest benefit that was being received by the couple.
So for instance, if John was receiving $2,000 per month and passed away at 75, his wife Mary who is now 70 could receive the full $2,000 that John was receiving and her lower $1,000 benefit on her own record would stop.
Again however, Mary has to apply for this benefit; it will NOT occur automatically.
If you’re a survivor under age 70, in most cases you will be entitled on two records; your own and as survivor based on your spouse’s record.
Which record you should take benefits on and when you should take it is crucial to your long-term fiscal health. You have the ability to claim only one of the two benefits available to you and you can then claim the other benefit at a later time by using something called a Restricted Application.
By doing so, the unclaimed benefit will continue to accrue Delayed Retirement Credits and will be higher when you claim it later.
Retroactive Benefits Are Sometimes Available
Survivors who are past their Full Retirement Age (66 in most cases) are also often eligible to receive up to six months of retroactive survivor benefits. Clients we work with are frequently surprised by this and receive an extra $10k to $15k as an initial lump sum by properly requesting and taking advantage of this retroactive benefit.
Again, though this does not happen automatically and has to be specifically requested at the time of application. Taking benefits even a month or two off your optimal time frame can result in significant losses over time.
If you’re over the age of 70 and are eligible for a survivor benefit, but have not yet claimed it you should do so as soon as possible. Because with each month that passes, you are leaving money on the table given that Delayed Retirement Credits stop accumulating at age 70.
The Bottom Line
Making the optimal Social Security claiming decision and maximizing your benefits is complicated. You should work with a Social Security advisor that is an expert in the myriad of strategies that are available to you.
If you are eligible for retroactive Social Security benefits, a Social Security advisor can help you file for those benefits and help you make sure you don’t leave any money on the table.
Whether any of the strategies above are right for you requires careful analysis as each situation is different. If you think you may be eligible for a survivor benefit or have other questions and would like to schedule a Free Initial Consultation with an advisor, you can do so by clicking here.
Until next time,
Matthew Allen is the Co-Founder/CEO of Social Security Advisors and creator of the new course Maximizing Your Social Security produced in conjunction with Weiss Educational Services. Matthew has helped thousands of seniors maximize their Social Security benefits and avoid costly mistakes when filing. Matthew has been at the forefront of financial services for over a decade. In addition to co-founding Social Security Advisors, Matthew also founded The Universal Group of Companies, a private investment firm, in 2004. From 2000 to 2004, Matthew was a NYSE Market Maker with LaBranche & Co., a Fortune 500 New York Stock Exchange firm.