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Can I switch from survivor benefits to my own later?


Can I switch from survivor benefits to my own later?

When my husband passed away, an SSA agent told me I could claim survivor benefits from his account and switch to my own retirement benefits later, while letting them grow.Today an agent told me switching is no longer allowed, and I can claim only my own (higher) benefits. Is this true? I've gotten some erroneous answers from an SSA employee before.  I've also had 2 different answers of when the earnings test no longer applies to survivor benefits. Thanks 

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Honored Social Butterfly


Survivors Benefits are DIFFERENT than Spousal benefits and it sounds like some SSA employees are confusing the two.


Yes, you can switch from Survivors Benefits to your own (work record) benefits - 

You will be given the amount of whichever is the higher amount even though in name only they may be a blending of the two.


Here is your source - go down the page until you see the heading of “Surviving Spouse” - IF YOU ARE THE SURVIVOR

quote from the page: (under heading Surviving Spouse)

If you are the surviving spouse of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can:


  • Receive reduced benefits as early as age 60.


If you qualify for retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62.
and then further down the page under the heading of “A few other Situations”, it says.
  • If you are also eligible for retirement benefits, but haven't applied yet, you have an additional option. You can apply for retirement or survivors benefits now and switch to the other (higher) benefit later.

You can even wait until you are 70 years old and apply for your own work benefits retirement and take advantage of all the delayed retirement benefits on your own work record benefit.



It's Always Something . . . . Roseanna Roseannadanna
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Thanks so much! On my next call to SSA, they tried to tell me the same thing, but after I quoted from the site you linked and invoked the name of AARP, they put me on hold and pottered off for a while.  When they came back, they agreed I could handle my benefits this way.  What a relief! Last week I thought I was going to have to rethink my whole retirement plan.

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Social Butterfly

I agree with @GailL1's conclusion that you can postpone your own SS retirement benefit until a later date while taking widow's (survivor) benefits, as per SSA rules and their own documentation.

What really scares me though is the misinformation that is stated by SSA representatives over the phone. Some years back when I applied for Medicare I needed to speak with an SSA rep and it was quite the relief to speak with someone who was knowledgeable and professional, versus the Medicare rep's I had spoken with. Sadly, the SSA rep's I have spoken with over the past 1-1/2 years while I have applied for my own SS retirement benefits, as well as some unrelated general issues, have mostly been rude, unhelpful, and even provided wrong information (there were some notable exceptions to this seeming new rule for SSA representatives).


I consider myself fairly well versed in SS retirement and survivor benefits, and I can dig into the SSA site (and others) to get information and understanding. Yet I am concerned for others who may not take such an interest in these issues as I do and simply accept the misinformation they are given and end up making costly errors in their application for benefits.


I recall, and just now located, a big 'stink' about SSA staffers misleading widows on this very issue of delaying their own retirement benefit. This occurred about 8 years ago and is summarized in this article from the PBS (Public Broadcasting), see Essentially, staffers were "helping" widows/widowers apply for both survivor benefits and their own retirement benefit at the same time, possibly much earlier than they really wanted (or needed). The result is that they gave up thousands of dollars in lifetime benefits.


But even that earlier case seems to pale in the sort of misinformation that I have seen and heard of, and experienced myself, over the past year or two. I understand that the SSA is not in the business of advising people how to maximize their lifetime benefits under the rules, but it is a disservice when they hand out wrong information.


I hope that there is some "back office" where all applications and benefits are reviewed from what the front line staff provide; I have to assume there is but I am not sure. But once an application has been filed there is little that the back office might do if the application has "problems" based on misinformation; they can only act on the application as it is written.


On the other hand, I do applaud the SSA for their website and the "My Social Security" platform. These have been upgraded over the past several years and provide excellent tools. Most information on benefits and programs can be found on-line (in fact, I would say "all information"). 

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