Do I Have A Right To Dispute Anything?

Jul 6 2020 - 2:13pm

Hi Larry - I read your article, "Social Security is Shortchanging Widows and Widowers" and it feels really like its a happening thing. I am a widower as of 2017, received the initial death benefit when I filed and began receiving survivor benefits as I was the caretaker of two children under the age of 16. Earlier this year (before this COVID-19 struck), I received a letter from the SSA stating I would no longer be receiving benefits (as caretaker), because my daughter was turning sixteen in May. Yet, I was also turning 60 in May 2020. The letter stated I may be entitled to widow's or widower's benefits at age 60, so I immediately called them when I had this letter in hand and a representative told me that not to worry, it'll just roll over then. But it didn't. Instead, the next month (June) my benefit stopped. Ouch! It cut my monthly payment in half! I again had to call Social Security to ask why this has happened, and they just said I'd have to have a phone interview in a few months! By not telling me back then the first time that I called that I'd have to make an appointment for an interview is really unfair and hurtful to me. I was also unaware that I could have responded with an appeal letter as long as it was within a 60 day time frame after receiving this letter, but instead when I called I got told "not to worry." Now, because of all of this, I am at the mercy of whatever Social Security chooses to do. Do I have any right to dispute or anything at all? Thank you.

Hi,

The article you cite refers to widows who were misled into filing simultaneously for both widow's benefits and their own Social Security retirement benefits, so your situation is different than that. An application is required to switch to reduced widow's benefits from mother's benefits, which is apparently what you were previously receiving, so it sounds like you were simply misinformed.

I don't have all of the facts of your case, but assuming that Social Security created an appointment for you to apply for widow's benefits and assuming that appointment was created prior to June, then you shouldn't suffer any loss of benefits other than the delay in payments that may result from filing your application later. As long as an appointment was established in May or before, that will protect your filing date so that you can claim widow's benefits retroactive to May.

If you end up not being permitted to claim benefits effective with May due to being misinformed by Social Security, then you could file an appeal. For more information on what you'd need to prove in that event, refer to the following section of Social Security's operations manual: https://secure.ssa.gov/apps10/poms.nsf/lnx/0200204008.

All of that said, filing for reduced widow's benefits may or may not be the best strategy for you. Depending on the family maximum benefit (FMB) in your family's case and the number of children who are still drawing benefits, filing for reduced widow's benefits could cause your child(ren)'s monthly benefit amount to be reduced. Also, claiming reduced widow's benefits prior to your full retirement age (FRA) will likely result in you receiving a lower monthly widow's rate for the rest of your life.

If you have worked long enough to be insured for benefits on your own work record, your best strategy is likely one of the following:
1) File for reduced widow's benefits at age 60 or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for reduced retirement benefits on your own record at age 62 or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then file for unreduced widow's benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher benefit when it reaches it's highest potential rate. Our software (https://maximizemysocialsecurity.com/purchase) could help sort all of this out for you so that you can determine the best strategy for maximizing your benefits.

Best, Jerry