Should I Appeal?

May 18 2017 - 7:31am

Sadly, my husband passed away in 2014. I was on disability at the time of his demise.
My goal was to collect a full widows benefit prior to taking my own FRA at age 70.
My husbands amount was higher than mine.
I was instructed by SS in 2014 to continue my disability, they would add excesss from my husbands to bring me up to his higher amount. Which they did.
They also instructed me to come back prior to turning 66 in 2016 in order to suspend my retirement benefit till 70 to accrue 8% per year and to receive full widows benefit in its place. Then at 70 return to my own benefit which would have surpassed my husbands by then. I implemented this October 2016. SS stopped my benefit but continued to only send me the small excess amount. Not the full widows benefit.
After many calls and visits with SS I had to file a reconsideration, which I did. The outcome was, they said there was an error made in that I continued to receive excess benefit. Both benefits should have stopped. Since only one was stopped and they accepted an error had been made on their part, they reimbursed me all the suspended amount and I am now back to where I started. My amount plus excess.
They said that if both benefits were withheld which would have been correct, they would not have given those months back to me and I would have been out 4 months of benefits.
I have the ability to appeal their decision and would like to know if I will have any success in attaining my original goal of suspending my benefit , collecting a full widows benefit prior to taking my own FRA @ 70.
Every time I speak with someone at SS I get a different answer.
Thank you.

Hi,

I'm sorry for your loss.

Since you were already receiving disability benefits when your husband died, the only way that you could have accomplished your plan to draw full widow's benefits while allowing your own benefit rate to grow until age 70 would have been to withdraw your disability claim and repay all of the benefits you had received. And, it sounds like that would not have been advantageous in your case.

Under the new voluntary suspension rules passed by Congress in 2015 (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/suspendfaq.html), you can't receive benefits on another record (e.g. widow's benefits) while your own benefits are suspended. Even before that, though, you would only have been able to receive the difference between your own benefit rate and your widow's rate while your benefits were suspended, not the full widow's benefit. That was apparently what Social Security started to do in your case, before realizing that the new law prevented any payment.

Unless your age 70 retirement benefit would be significantly higher than your current combined retirement and widow's benefit rate, suspending your benefit is likely not advantageous in your case. I can't say that for sure without knowing your exact rates, though. In any case, however, suspending your own benefits and receiving full widow's benefits is not now, and never was, a valid option.

Best, Jerry