Should I File For Widow's Benefits Now?

Category: 
Jan 4 2017 - 7:45am

Hi Larry,
I recently lost my husband. People have been suggesting that I look into seeing if I am entitled to any benefits through Social Security. And although this is all so difficult, I have been trying to figure out if I should file for survivor benefits now or wait. My situation is that I have been on SSDI on my own record for some years. He had retired and began collecting retirement benefits at FRA. I have not reached FRA as of this date but will do so in a little over a year from now. I've read your first book and then talked to someone at Social Security because I had some basic information. I am on "protected filing" as of October 31 because I had filed for the "death benefit" for him per Social Security's suggestion. But I didn't want to file for a survivor benefit without being sure I was filing correctly. At this point I decided to purchase your product. What I was reading and what Social Security was telling me seemed to be two different things.

After reading and reading your book over and over, my understanding is that if I file before full retirement age my benefit will be reduced by "a percentage" for the number of months before I reach FRA. But once I reach it, the reduction will disappear and the benefit will be equal to the amount my husband was collecting at his FRA. But Social Security said that was not the case. The reduction will still exist. I don't know how to explain this to anyone there, and neither am I an expert by any means.

Now that I used your program, it seems the information I have acquired concerning my specific situation is correct. The benefit at my full retirement age became equal to my husband's retirement benefit at his full retirement age when he started collecting. But I still don't know how to show anyone at social security. Although the person I talked to was very respectful and kind, he was not receptive to my original statements. I don't want to make a mistake on this. And I don't know that if I just give the facts, will social security’s system accurately determine the correct benefits without the agent's input? Or does the system require the agents to make the determination first, and to enter the information in such a way that it gives the correct results? I’m confused and I’m probably not making this clear.

Also, the results that I received using your program showed that the benefit never changed or increased after I reached full retirement age. So I’m wondering if that figure is the maximum that I will ever receive based on the current rules as they pertain to me and my situation?

Do I file or do I wait? Do I have to withdraw my retirement benefit or has that been eliminated by the new rules that congress put in place and subsequently took away any possibility of a disabled individual getting any increase in their benefits forever?
Thanks for your help.

Hi,

I'm very sorry for your loss.

It certainly sounds like you should file for your widow's benefits as soon as possible, and if Social Security dissuaded you from filing sooner by misinforming you, you should ask them to back date your application.

If you are receiving Social Security disability benefits, and then become eligible for higher widow's benefits, you should always file for the widow's benefits as soon as possible. Even though the excess widow's benefits will be reduced temporarily, the reduction is removed effective with the month that you reach full retirement age (FRA), when your disability benefits convert to retirement benefits. Removal of the reduction may not happen immediately upon reaching FRA, but Social Security will pay any back pay due when they do process the removal of the reduction.

Apparently, this is a regulation with which many of the current staff at Social Security is unaware. I'm a retired Social Security technical expert, and I can only tell you that this provision was common knowledge among my co-workers throughout my 36 year career. You may want to print out the pertinent section of the Social Security operations manual (https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0300615350) and show it to the claims representative when you visit their office, specifically the last part of the 'If-Then' box in section C, which explains that the widow's rate becomes unreduced upon the conversion to retirement benefits.

To answer your other questions, in most cases Social Security benefit calculations are automated, but in some cases they are computed manually. If they make a mistake, however, you can appeal their determination and they should make it right. Your total benefit rate will not get any higher than the full rate that your husband was receiving, even after you reach FRA, except for cost of living increases. And, you have no option for withdrawing retirement benefits at FRA, thanks to Social Security's rewriting of their rules at the end of 2014 (http://www.pbs.org/newshour/making-sense/social-securitys-christmas-pres...).

Best, Jerry