Can A Spouse File For Reduced Retirement Benefits And Later Switch To Survivor Benefits?

Mar 26 2017 - 8:45am

Can a spouse file for a reduced retirement benefit on their own record and later switch to a (larger) survivor benefit?

I'm trying to set up a budget for my wife should I die before she does. We're both 60 and neither is currently drawing a benefit. She was a low wage earner and her regular retirement PIA at FRA is $504. At age 62 she could draw a reduced PIA of $368. I do not intend to file for my benefit prior to my FRA. Her SURVIVOR benefit, if she waits until her FRA, would be $1609, but it's my understand if she draws it prior to her FRA it will be reduced by a percentage for each month drawn early.

So should I die between now and age 62, can she file for a reduced retirement benefit at age 62 on her own work record, and receive $368, and then at her FRA switch and receive an unreduced survivor benefit of $1609? Is there any reason why she wouldn't want to do this? She'll have other assets to help bridge the gap between 62 and her FRA so I want to preserve the full survivor benefit but every little bit extra during that period will help.


The answer to your question is essentially yes. Any reduction that a person takes on their own record would not necessarily carry over to the total rate they would receive as a survivor. So, yes, if you don't take reduced benefits yourself, your wife could file for reduced benefits on her own record at age 62 and still potentially get your full benefit rate as a widow at age 66 or later. What she would actually be paid in that scenario is her own reduced benefit, plus an excess widow's benefits equal to the difference between her own reduced benefit rate and your full rate, but the total would be your full rate.

Whether or not this is your best strategy is another story, though. You may want to consider running the maximization software available on this website to help you decide on the best overall filing strategy for you and your wife.

Best, Jerry