How Is My Mother's Survivor Benefit Calculated?

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Jan 7 2017 - 4:15pm

Asking for my mother (77 years old): Dad (80 years old) just passed away in November 2016. Dad's SS check was $1600 per month. Mom was a stay at home mother most of her life. Late in life she worked for a state college earning a $600. per month pension. She has files for survivors benefits and just found out she will receive $500.00 per month. When I use the SS estimator and take 2/3rds of her $600.00 ($400) and subtract that from what Dad was getting.... Mom should get $1200 per month for the survivor benefits??? How am I getting this number?? What do I not know?? It seemed pretty simple to me... I am stumped. Thanks for any help in getting a clearer picture. J

Hi J,

I'm sorry for your loss.

It certainly sounds like your mother should be getting around $1200 based on the figures you cited, assuming that she doesn't get any Social Security benefits based on her own work record, and that $600 is the gross amount of her non-covered pension. The surviving member of a couple generally receives roughly the higher of their 2 benefits, but not both. So, if your mother was receiving $700 a month on her own record, then getting an extra $500 on your father's account would be about right after deducting $400, or 2/3rds of the amount of her non-covered pension (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10007.pdf).

If your mother is not receiving Social Security benefits on her own account and $600 is the gross amount of her non-covered pension, then I have no idea why her widow's benefit isn't higher. If those facts are correct, your mother should contact Social Security for an explanation, and possibly file an appeal if the explanation is unsatisfactory. You could do that for her, but you'd need a release of information form SSA-3288 (https://www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-3288.pdf) signed by your mother.

Best, Jerry