When Should I Start Drawing Widow's Benefits?

Category: 
Apr 21 2017 - 7:26am

My husband died 5 years ago and was on Disability for about 3 years prior to his death. He worked from age 16 - 58 (when he died), I worked for 27 years of our married life. Neither of us made a lot of money, just a normal middle class family.

I will be turning 60 this year and had planned to apply for my Widow's benefit to supplement my income of approx. $24,000 per year. At the time of his passing, a SS rep told me I could expect to receive the amount, or close to it, of what my husband received on disability ($1.981 per mo). I'm so lost among all this confusion...any advice would be helpful.

Hi,

I'm sorry for your loss.

If you start drawing widow's benefits at age 60, you won't receive your husband's full benefit rate. Instead, you will receive 71.5% of his full rate inclusive of any cost of living increases that occurred after his death, or 71.5% of an alternate widow's calculation if higher. The latter calculation is referred to as the WINDEX rate (https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0300615302), but it is only used when it yields a higher benefit rate than what you would receive under the traditional method. In order to receive your husband's full rate, you would need to wait until your full retirement age to apply for widow's benefits.

Also, there is an earnings limit that may limit the amount of benefits you can receive prior to full retirement age (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html). Under the earnings test, if you earn $24,000 this year, Social Security will likely need to withhold $3540 of your 2017 benefits, or $1 for each $2 that you earn in excess of $16,920.

Your best filing strategy is likely one of the following:
1) File for reduced widow's benefits at age 60, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for reduced retirement benefits on your own record at age 62, then file for unreduced widow's benefits at your full retirement age.

It would probably be optimal to start out drawing the lower of your 2 potential benefit rates, and save the highest rate for last. The maximization software available on this website can help you determine which filing strategy is best in your case.

Best, Jerry