How Do I Choose Between Survivor And Retirement Benefits?

Feb 21 2017 - 7:15am

Question: Switching between Survivor's Benefits and Retirement Benefits (And exclusion from earnings test)

My spouse (51 y.o.) passed away in October.
My child (10 y.o) collects Child's Benefits.
My earnings prevent me (58 y.o.) from collecting Mother/Father Benefits (M/FB).

I want to confirm that if I stop working (bringing me within the earnings limit), I may then collect M/FB until my child turns 16? At that point, I will be 64. May I switch then to Widow(er)'s Benefits (WB)? And collect that until either my Full Retirement Age, or ideally age 70, when I would switch to my own retirement benefits?

I would also like to confirm that collecting either M/FB or WB does not impact in any way my future retirement benefits based on my own work record?

Lastly, I understand that receiving a pension or withdrawals from qualified retirement plans (IRAs, 401k, etc) do NOT count in the earnings test to be eligible for M/FB or WB?

Thank you for allowing such questions, as it is nearly impossible to get our 'contact' person at the local SS office on the phone!

Hi,

I'm sorry for your loss.

Yes, assuming that your child is in your care, you could receive father's benefits if you stop work or reduce your earnings (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html). For full entitlement rules, refer to the Social Security operations manual: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0300208001. Drawing father's benefits will not affect either your future widower's benefits, nor retirement benefits on your own record.

Only earned income (i.e. wages and self-employment earnings) counts toward the Social Security earnings test, not withdrawals from a 401k or IRA.

If you are at least age 60 when your child reaches age 16, you could switch to reduced widower's benefits and let your own benefit rate grow until age 70. Or, if you are at least age 62 when your child reaches age 16, you could potentially file for reduced retirement benefits and then receive unreduced widower's benefits at full retirement age. You may want to use the maximization software available on this website in order to determine which option would be best for you.

Best, Jerry