Does A Person Need To Be Drawing Benefits In Order For Their Spouse To Receive Survivor Benefits Upon Their Death?

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Jul 18 2017 - 9:51am

I am asking these questions for friends. The primary wage earner was born in Oct 1953, the wife April 1953 making her 64 and him 63 and 9 months. He is dying. He probably will not make to his next birthday. He probably won't make it to August 2017. He is NOT currently collecting social security benefits, but he is at the maximum available to collect if he was 66, according to his SS account. My questions are
1. Does he need to be collecting SS for her to receive survivor benefits?
2. Is there a benefit for her to wait until she turns 66 to collect survivor benefits?
3. If she files to collect survivor benefits immediately after he passes at what % would her amount be reduced as she is not at FRA?
4. On the following page of ss - https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/survivorchartred.html, the first paragraph states "As a general rule, survivors benefits based on age will be about the same total Social Security benefits over a lifetime, whether they start early or at full survivors retirement age. If monthly benefits start before full retirement age, the amount is smaller to take into account the longer period a person receives them." What does that mean?

Thanks so much for you help.
Best,
Ann

Hi Ann,

I'm sorry to hear about your friend's illness.

I'll answer your questions in order:
1) No, your male friend does not have to be drawing his benefits in order for his wife to receive widow's benefits in the event of his death.
2) Yes. Widows benefits are reduced for age if the widow starts drawing them prior to full retirement age.
3) The exact percentage reduction varies depending on a widow's year of birth, but would amount to about 4.75% per year in your friend's case. In other words, if she started drawing at age 65 instead of age 66, her widow's rate would be about 4.75% lower. And if she started drawing at age 64, it would be about 9.5% lower.
4) The quotation you cite opines that if a widow lives an average lifespan, they will receive roughly the same amount of total benefits regardless of whether they take reduced benefits or not.

I should also mention that if your male friend files for reduced retirement benefits, that reduction would carry over to the potential widow's rate that his wife could receive. But, his drawing disability benefits would not hurt his wife's potential widow's benefit rate. So, if he hasn't already done so it sounds like he should likely file for disability benefits.

Best, Jerry