Can I Receive Widower's Benefits While I'm Working?

Jul 30 2016 - 11:00am

Hello Larry,
My wife of 25 years passed away 2/15/2016 at the age of 59. She had not worked for 7 years before she passed.
She had worked for 26 years straight at California Casualty Insurance and paid Social Security there.
I am currently 62 years old and do not plan to retire until I am at least 66.
Can I collect any benefits from her account now she has passed?
Please let me know.
Thank you.
Best regards,
Brad

Hi Brad,

Sorry for your loss. Whether or not you can receive any benefits before age 66 depends on the amount that you're earning. Until the year you reach full retirement age (FRA), Social Security withholds $1 of potential benefits payable for every $2 that you earn in excess of an exempt amount, which is $15720 this year. For more information on the earnings test, refer to this link: https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html.

Even if you earn substantially more than $15720 per year, you may be due some Social Security benefits. However, if you're earning more than $70K per year or so, you probably won't be able to draw any benefits until at least January of the year you reach age 66. In that year, the exempt amount of earnings will be higher under the test, and only earnings prior to the month you reach FRA count, and only $1 for every $3 of excess earnings is withheld.

Assuming that you've been a higher earner than your wife, your best strategy is likely to apply for widower's benefits no later than age 66, or sooner if your earnings are low enough to permit any payments before that, then switch to your own account at age 70. You may wish to consider running the maximization software available on this website. The software accounts for Social Security's earnings test, and should be able to help you determine the best time to apply.

Best, Jerry