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 Villagesgal:
“My friend Sarah was born in 1957, so her full retirement age is 66 and 6 months. She was married for 10 years to her first husband, who is no longer alive. That marriage ended in divorce. She remarried, but her second marriage also ended in divorce after 12 years. Her second husband is still alive. She is single now and has been for over 15 years.
Can she claim survivors benefits from her deceased first husband?”
How to qualify for survivors benefits
Villagesgal, the short answer to your question is “yes.”
Sarah satisfies the two key criteria for receiving survivors benefits:
- She was married for at least 10 years to her deceased husband or ex-husband.
- She is currently not married (or she remarried after age 60).
She can claim these benefits now, but her benefits will be permanently reduced by an early claiming penalty. For instance, if she claimed when she turned 64, her benefits would be reduced by about 10%. Sarah’s survivors benefits are maximized at her FRA of 66 and 2 months. (The FRA for survivors benefits differs from the FRA for retirement or spousal benefits.) In other words, delayed retirement credits do not apply to survivors benefits.
Since her second marriage lasted more than 10 years, she is also eligible for spousal benefits on her second husband’s record. Typically, a survivors benefit would offer the higher benefit. But she certainly should compare the two to see which offers the greatest benefit for her.
Another thing to consider is whether Sarah has her own retirement benefits. If so, she should consider whether to claim retirement benefits now and survivors benefits at her FRA, or vice versa. On this issue of finding the optimal choice, she might benefit from some inexpensive expert advice.
Sarah would be able to claim one of these two benefits now and the other one later because survivors benefits are not covered by the deemed filing rule. This rule works as follows: If you are eligible for, say, retirement benefits and spousal benefits, claiming one of those benefits results in a claim for both benefits. The Social Security Administration deems that both benefits are being applied for. Survivors benefits are not covered by this rule.
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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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