Reply To: Social Security Benefit Mixup

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The survivor benefit can be confusing, and I’ve come across several cases where the SS Rep got it wrong.

If you have both began your benefits and you are both at your survivor’s Full Retirement Age (note: this can be slightly different for some birth year groups than living benefits Full Retirement Age) or older, when one dies, providing you’ve beenn married at least nine months, the survivor will get the greater of the two benefits.

If the younger began their benefit and the older has not yet begun their benefit and then dies, the deceased’s benefit will be calculated as of the date of death. If the surviving spouse is at least at their survivor FRA, the survivor will get the greater of their own or the benefit the deceased spouse would have gotten as of the date of death….and this will include Delayed Retirement Credits (8%/yr up to age 70), if any.

But if the deceased spouse was not at their FRA at death and had not begun their benefit, Social Security will calculate the deceased spouses Primary Insurance Amount as of the date of death. The surviving spouse can continue hers (I’ll assume she is the survivor) and then at her survivor FRA, can switch to the survivor’s PIA if greater than hers. Note that the decedent’s PIA does not accrue Delayed Retirement Credits if the survivor waits beyond their Survivor FRA…and this may be point of confusion. If the surviving spouse elects the Survivor benefit before her survivor FRA, it will be reduced by about.67% per month she begins early.

Now, I’m going to offer something that is going to probably depress you….

…you make no mention of it so I’ll assume you didn’t use it….. but since your spouse began her benefit at 62, when you reached your FRA (66 yrs 0 months) you could have filed a restricted application. This would have allowed you to collect 50% of your spouse’s PIA (not her benefit) while your PIA continued to accrue Delayed Retirement Credits, and then switched to yours at age 70…keeping the higher survivor benefit for your spouse.

The restricted application requires one spouse to have begun their benefit (at any age) and then the other spouse can file the restricted application at their FRA….but they must have been born on or before Jan 1, 1954.

As you found out, the SS Administration will not notify you of this benefit.