Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about whether early retirement benefits would also require early survivor’s benefits, when it might be best to file for divorced spousal benefits and spousal benefits for people born in 1954 and later. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.
See more Ask Larry answers here.
Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.
If My Wife Files Early, Would She Be Forced To Take Early Widow’s Benefits Too?
Hi Larry, My spouse just turned 62, is eight years younger than me and is filing for her retirement benefit now. She’ll be deemed to also file for spousal benefits.
If I die before my wife reaches FRA, will she be forced to take the survivor benefit based on her age, since she already is receiving a benefit? Or can she wait until her FRA to get the unreduced survivor benefits? Thanks, Charlie
Hi Charlie, As long as your wife is eligible for Social Security retirement benefits based on her own work record, she could choose to wait until full retirement age (FRA) to collect survivor benefits if you die before she reaches FRA.
The only way that your wife could be stuck with a reduced survivor benefit if you die before she reaches FRA is if she’s collecting reduced spousal benefits and she’s not insured for Social Security retirement benefits based on her own earnings history.
In that event, her spousal benefits would automatically convert to widow’s benefits, and any reduction for age would be calculated based on her age at the time of your death. Best, Larry
Do You Know Of Any Information I’m Missing?
Hi Larry, I am 64 and have a FRA of 66 and six months. I spent a number of years out of the job market due to raising children and caring for parents. My marriage of 30 years ended in 2015. I understand that I can get a divorced spousal benefit based on my ex’s record.
I am in the lower margin of income so my retirement benefit is smaller than my divorced spousal benefit, which will be about $1,200 a month. So do you know of any info I am missing? Thanks, Maria
Hi Maria, It sounds like your only real option comes down to when to apply for Social Security benefits. Since you were born after 1/1/1954, when you apply for either your own Social Security retirement benefits or for divorced spousal benefits, you’ll be deemed to be applying for both benefits.
Assuming that your ex is still living and is at least age 62 or is drawing Social Security disability or retirement benefits, if you claim benefits at your full retirement age (FRA) you’ll then be eligible for the higher of a) your own unreduced Social Security retirement benefit rate, or b) 50% of your ex’s primary insurance amount (PIA). A person’s PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA). But if you choose to start drawing prior to FRA, your benefit rate will be reduced for age.
If your ex is still living and if 50% of his or her PIA is substantially higher than your own benefit rate, then you would almost certainly not want to wait past your FRA to start drawing benefits.
Whether or not you’d want to start drawing before then depends on your individual circumstances. You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry
Did Social Security Do Away With Spousal Benefits For People Born After 1954?
Hi Larry, I’ve been told by friends that Social Security has eliminated spousal benefits for everyone born after 1954. Is this true? Thanks, Ralph
Hi Ralph, That is not true. Spousal benefits can still be paid to people who people who meet the requirements for those benefits regardless of when they were born
What changed for people born after 1/1/1954 is that they are not allowed to file just for spousal benefits without also being required to claim their own Social Security retirement benefits at the same time.
People born prior to 1/2/1954 were permitted to claim spousal benefits at full retirement age (FRA) or later while letting their own Social Security retirement benefits to grow until age 70. But this option is no longer available to those born after 1/1/1954. Best, Larry