Do I Have It Right?

Jul 5 2018 - 11:19am

Jerry,

Thank you for your prompt email reply to my inquiry. Since your email does not allow for a direct reply I’m sending a few additional thoughts via the contact page. While these thoughts deal with semantics, I’m seeking clarification in order to feel comfortable that I’m not misunderstanding things. Please bear with me.

#1) In your Dec. 30, 2017 answer you wrote “The resulting survivor benefit of $1890 would be paid in addition to her own retirement benefit, making her combined benefit amount equal to her ex’s full rate of $2640.”

I’m wondering, wouldn’t it be more precise to write “The resulting EXCESS survivor benefit of $1890…”?

#2) Along similar lines, I wonder if SSA didn’t complicate things in POMS RS 00615.020 which deals with dual entitlement such as claiming survivor while also claiming retirement (in SSA BIC jargon, A with D).

In the guidance SSA gives example Method B and writes “The total paid is $900, the sum of the reduced excess widow benefit and the reduced RIB.”

I’m wondering, would it not have been more precise for SSA to write “The total paid is $900, the sum of the excess widow benefit…”? That is, I don’t think it is appropriate to use the word “reduced” with “excess widow benefit.”

Yes, both the RIB and the widow benefit were reduced, but the difference (the excess widow benefit) is just that, the excess widow benefit. The excess widow benefit is defined as the difference between the appropriately adjusted RIB and appropriately adjusted (reduced or increased by DRC) widow benefit. It seems to me that characterizing the excess widow benefit as “reduced” unnecessarily complicates the wording.

As you can see, both #1 and #2 involve the tricky term “excess survivor [widow] benefit.” As you can also see, I’m simply trying to be sure I’ve got it right.

What do you think?

Thanks.

Chris

Hi Chris,

I'll preface by explaining that I'm not a writer and I have no editor, so I apologize for my limitations.

Regarding your first point I guess I could have referred to the survivor benefit as an excess survivor benefit, but I believe I clarified my meaning by adding that that amount would be paid in addition to the survivor's own retirement benefit rate. The point that I was attempting to explain is that just because a survivor beneficiary started drawing reduced retirement benefits prior to their full retirement age (FRA), it doesn't mean that their combined retirement and survivor benefit rate would also be reduced if they become entitled to survivor benefits at FRA or later.

Regarding your second point, the word 'reduced' in the reference you cite refers to a benefit rate reduction caused by starting benefits prior to full retirement age, not the reduction resulting from subtraction of the person's own retirement benefit rate from her survivor rate. Here is the cited reference:
'Method B – A widow is entitled to a benefit of $1000 before reduction. She is also entitled to a RIB of $400 before reduction. Each benefit is reduced separately. The widow benefit is reduced to $900 and the RIB is reduced to $380. The reduced RIB is subtracted from the reduced widow benefit. The result is the excess widow benefit payable - $520. The total paid is $900, the sum of the reduced excess widow benefit and the reduced RIB.'

To clarify (hopefully), the widow in the above example would be due an unreduced widow's rate of $1000 if she started drawing at FRA or later, and if that was the only benefit to which she was entitled. However, since she started receiving widow's benefits prior to FRA her benefit rate is reduced for age to $900. Furthermore, she is receiving a retirement benefit on her own record of $380, which is also reduced for age because she started drawing that benefit prior to FRA. The 'excess' widow's benefit refers to the difference in those 2 amounts, or $580.

Bottom line, the widow in your cited reference would receive benefits totaling $900, which is a reduced amount because she started drawing her survivor benefits prior to FRA.

Best, Jerry