Did Social Security Give Me Correct Information?

Feb 24 2017 - 7:15am

Hi Larry,
I've read both editions of your book and truly appreciate the knowledge you have shared with your readers. Today I visited my local SSA office and I hope you can confirm the information they provided - specifically as it relates to the ex spouse benefit should the ex - spouse pass. (You mentioned that SSA offices unfortunately have reps who aren't up to speed on all the provisions of the SS law and don't provide correct information at the expense of the retiree.)
My ex spouse and I were 63 on 1/1/2016 so fall into the "grandfather" co-hort and we're are both now 64. My FRA is only 17 months away. The marriage lasted more than 10 years.
I asked for estimated benefits @ FRA when:
1. I filed Restricted Application for Spousal Benefit
2. What the Spousal Benefit be if I began collecting @ FRA and he were to pass 6 month or 1 year later
3. Based on my earnings what is my benefit @FRA and benefit @ 70 with delayed retirement credits.
The SSA rep in put all the data in his computer, stepped away, returned with a card he put into the side of his computer, and then printed out a report with the following benefit information. (During this meeting I posed a hypothetical question and learned that my ex has commeneced benefits. )
1. $1,085/month @ FRA would be my Spousal Benenfit (until I begin my benefit - no later than age 70)
2. $1,085/month would continue even if ex spouse were to die
3. $1,610/month @ FRA based on my current earnings history or $2,126/month @ 70 with the delayed credits
Note: Back in December 2015, I visited the same SSA office and received a print out with explanation of benefits including some thing called a "Widow PIA of $2,163." It would appear that 50% of that benefit is close to the $1,085 Ex Spousal benefit. (Is this "Widow" benefit to an ex spouse still an option? The rep I saw today limited my questions, so I never got to ask this question.)
Can you confirm that if I were to take the $1,085/month @ FRA and at some future date, 6 months or 12 months, my ex should pass that my benefit would remain unchanged ?
I recently spoke with someone who is 69 and said she had been receiving an ex spouse pension and when he passed 4 months ago she said that the ex spousal pension she received doubled. She has not yet commenced benefits based on her earnings history. )
I am trying to plan the best financial future possible for myself and do hope to work until I reach 70. However, some health issues may derail that plan. (I was out of work for 12 consecutive months between '14 & '15 so I learned life can present challenges !)
Thank you.

Hi Jill,

All of what you were told sounds correct except for your potential survivor benefit rate. The benefit rate for a surviving divorced spouse at full retirement age can be anywhere from 82.5% of the deceased's full retirement age rate (PIA), to 100% of the full rate inclusive of delayed retirement credits. The actual rate payable depends on the age at which the deceased started drawing their benefits.

So, if we assume that your ex-husband's PIA is $2,163, your benefit rate as a survivor would be at least $1,784 (i.e. $2163 x .825). And, since you were told that your ex is already drawing reduced benefits, that's probably about what you could expect to receive as a survivor. Of course, you would not get both your own benefit rate and the survivor rate, just the higher of the two.

From what you were told, it sounds like your best strategy would be to file for spousal benefits only at age 66 and then switch to your own record at age 70, but you may want to use the maximization software available on this website to be sure.

Best, Jerry