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Survivor benefits

I am a widow, age 65. Initially when I visited the local SS office and presented all my paperwork, I was told that I could start collecting my SS benefit whenever I choose, and then when I turn 66+4 months I can switch over to my late husband's benefit, which is significantly higher than mine. Based on this, I chose to start receiving my benefit in January 2024, since my 2023 income is too high to collect immediately. The understanding was that I would switch to my husband's benefit after age 66. I was given a phone appointment to get the paperwork started for this. The SS agent on the phone told me this was not possible; I couldn't start taking my benefit and then switch to my husband's at age 66+4, which is contrary to what I was told in person. I asked her 3 times to make sure I understood, and she reiterated that this is the case. 
 
My question is, which agent is correct? I can't seem to find consistent information on this. 
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I refer to Prof. Larry Kotlikoff a lot in this forum, including my reply to this thread. Just today he's posted a new article about the issue presented in this post; it makes for "interesting" reading. It's about a recent conversation he had with the SSA front line personnel over a client who had the very same question as the OP.

 

See https://larrykotlikoff.substack.com/p/my-unbelievable-conversation-with

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@ColleenG304788 

 

My understanding of the SSA rules jibes with what you were told initially:   that you can elect to postpone your widow (survivor) benefit until a later date (but no point in delaying beyond your FRA as there will be no increase in your survivor benefit). You might want to consider postponing until your FRA, otherwise the survivor benefit is decreased if taken before your FRA.

 

I am thinking that perhaps those who told you otherwise may be misunderstanding the SSA rules for "demed filing". Deemed filing does not apply to survivor benefits, see https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/claiming.html#:~:text=Deemed%20filing%20applies%20to....

 

 

Now, why is this my understanding? I have studied this particular issue quite a bit in the past. It does get confusing. It comes down to the SSA rules of https://secure.ssa.gov/poms.nsf/lnx/0300207025 and Form SSA-4111 (https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-4111.pdf). Someone who is entitled to their own retirement benefit may elect to postpone their survivor benefits until a later date (they might do this so they don't get dinged by claiming before their FRA). (someone who is collecting spousal benefits but does not have their own retirement benefit cannot do this postponing). 

 

Of course, if you were collecting spousal benefits along with your own retirement benefit, then postponing the survivor benefit will temporarily decrease the total monthly benefit ...but this does not apply to you since you are not yet collecting any benefits at all; I just throw this in for completeness.

 

Some additional useful links on this topic include:

 

https://bam.esplanner.com/do-i-have-accept-reduced-widows-benefits  from Larry Kotlikoff, a professor at Boston University and an SS expert. This particular article addresses your question exactly.

 

https://www.thinkadvisor.com/2021/07/22/how-social-security-pushes-poor-claiming-choices/   an interview with Kotlikoff, see his comments under "Any other Administration scams afoot?  "

 

https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/planner/claiming.html   (SSA site) see Example 2 under Deemed Filing Rules, "...deemed filing does not apply to widows and widowers"

 

An excellent discussion is in this forum https://www.bogleheads.org/forum/viewtopic.php?p=543628. This dates from 2009 but provides some background about form SSA-4111 that is still accurate. The poster SScritic was known to be expert on SSA rules.

 

One of my own concerns has long been the reliability of the information provided by SSA representatives, I have concerns about that. On the other hand, their site is an excellent source of information, one must dig for it though.

 

Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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@fffred,

When I filed for SS retirement, a SS rep. informed me that I could have been receiving survivor benefits since 2020. I had no idea there were additional benefits; my husband died in '96, and we received support until the kids came of age. The rep said I could not appeal to receive the lost benefits (about $55,000+).  Can this be true that I cannot appeal and that SS can keep my benefits? 

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@ImogeneB462109 

 

Sorry for the late reply but I see you got an excellent reply from GailL in another forum/thread on this issue.

 

As GailL pointed out, if you turned full retirement age (FRA) in 2020 then, yes, you have permanently lost out on benefits.

 

On the other hand, if that comment from the SSA personnel was based on you turning age 60 (or 62, etc) in 2020 then the issue is muddied a bit. Getting the benefits at the age younger than FRA results in a smaller benefit ...but for more years. Getting the benefit later (at FRA) results in a larger benefit ...but for fewer years. Some people try to determine which is better. Of course, no one knows until they've cashed in their final chips. But you can determine the age at which both streams of cash result in the same amount (we'll assume that COLAs will take care of the time value of money (TVM) question). If you expect to live longer than that, then take the higher amount.

 

Sometimes people make comments like the SS person did, not really helpful comments, maybe ignorant comments, not considering the full situation, etc. People do this sometimes. 

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