Welcome to our “Social Security Q&A” series. You ask a question about Social Security, and a guest expert answers it.
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Today’s question comes from Brenda:
“My mother passed away several months ago at the age of 71. She claimed her Social Security benefits at the age of 66. So, she received benefits only for five years. In contrast, she worked and paid Social Security taxes for 45 years. As a result, she paid far more into the Social Security system than she got out of it.
Is it possible for me — her adult daughter — to get the difference between what she paid and what she received? If so, how?”
A basic misunderstanding of Social Security
Brenda, you appear to be thinking of Social Security as something similar to a saving account or an IRA — a financial instrument that can be passed along to others at the time of a person’s death. The Social Security system does not work that way.
Social Security is a set of insurance programs. In fact, the legal name for Social Security is the Old Age, Survivors, and Disability Insurance program. It is designed to partially replace income lost due to retirement, disability or death. Social Security has never served as a personal savings account for individuals.
Brenda, over the years I have discussed this topic with many clients. Once they see Social Security as a set of insurance programs rather than as IRA, they generally understand how your mother’s situation can be a reasonably fair one.
As with any insurance policy — such as auto, homeowners or life insurance — many Social Security beneficiaries will receive less in cash benefits (insurance payouts) than they paid in Social Security taxes (insurance premiums). But, that fact does not diminish the value of the insurance coverage provided by the disability and survivors parts of the program.
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I hold a doctorate in economics from the University of Wisconsin and taught economics at the University of Delaware for many years.
Disclaimer: We strive to provide accurate information with regard to the subject matter covered. It is offered with the understanding that we are not offering legal, accounting, investment or other professional advice or services, and that the SSA alone makes all final determinations on your eligibility for benefits and the benefit amounts. Our advice on claiming strategies does not comprise a comprehensive financial plan. You should consult with your financial adviser regarding your individual situation.
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