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Survivor Benefits

If you are collecting spousal benefits, do you have to immediately switch to survivors benefits upon the death of your spouse, or can you stop receiving receiving benefits to allow the survivor benefit to grow until your FRA

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@tc2641 

 

It can depend on whether you are eligible for your own SS retirement benefit or not.


I studied this issue for my wife, should I predecease her. My understanding is that it's pretty automatic that spousal benefits get converted to survivor's benefits. However, if you (the spouse) have work credits on your own account and have SS retirement benefits of your own then you can postpone survivor's benefits until a later date; you will then be given your own SS retirement benefit. Thus if the survivor's benefit is expected to be greater at some point in the future you can take advantage of this. For example, if your deceased spouse had "delayed retirement credits" you as a survivor will get those as well...but not as a spouse (note that a spouse is not a widow and vice versa).

 

However, if you do not have a work history of your own sufficient to obtain SS retirement benefit then you cannot postpone the transition from spousal to survivor benefits. It is this particular point that I was very sensitive to for my wife, she has no work history (in the US). I changed some of my own plans to compensate for this issue should I die "early" (I am 11 years older than my wife and that dictated a lot of my planning and decisions).

 

I'm a bit rusty on this but I believe the SSA form is SS-10, although when I am looking at this form now it doesn't seem like the correct one. I'll search my history on my computer. Okay, actually it is form SSA-4111. This SSA document provides some more information on this issue https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0300207005

 

Another point is that spouses who take the spousal benefit before their FRA have their benefit reduced. Survivors who take the benefit before their FRA also have their benefit reduced. But because the death of the NH likely occurs after the spouse has begun their spousal benefit the reduction for survivor will be taken at that later age of the spouse.   ("NH" is the Number Holder in the jargon of the SSA; that's the party on whose account the spouse/survivor benefits are taken).

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@tc2641 

Let me add something that I happened to run across by coincidence just now.

This page at the SSA site (https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou.html) addresses... 

A few other situations:

  • If you already receive benefits as a spouse, your benefit will automatically convert to survivors benefits after we receive the report of death.
  • 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.
  • For those already receiving retirement benefits, you can only apply for benefits as a surviving spouse if the retirement benefit you receive is less than the benefits you would receive as a survivor.

 

I believe the bold italics addresses your question.

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