Ask Larry

How Much Am I Really Entitled To?

I started taking social security benefits when I was 62. I was born in December 1954 so I hadn't reached FRA. My husband started taking them in 2019. He was 66 that year. He just passed away in February and I filed for spousal benefits. I was told that I wasn't eligible to receive his benefits because they didn't exceed 50% of my benefits which were $837/month. His total benefit was $2007/month. How much am I really entitled to? When did the benefit get capped at 50% of the spouse's benefit?

Hi. I'm sorry for your loss. Based on your description, it sounds like you're eligible for 100% of the amount of your husband's benefit rate. You can't collect that amount plus your own benefit rate, though, just the higher of the two amounts. Social Security won't actually stop paying your own benefits and pay you just widow's benefits, though. What they'll do instead is pay you your own benefit rate plus a partial widow's benefit equal to the difference between your own rate and your husband's rate. The net result would be that you'd be paid a total amount equal to your husband's full benefit rate.

It is probably true that you didn't qualify for spousal benefits while your husband was still living. You could only have qualified for spousal benefits if your own primary insurance amount (PIA) was less than half as much as your husband's PIA, and from your description it sounds like your PIA was more than 50% of your husband's PIA. A person's PIA is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

Don't let any misinformation from Social Security dissuade you from applying for widow's benefits. If you were born in 1954 then you've already reached your full retirement age (FRA), and there would be no advantage to waiting until later to apply for widow's benefits.

Best, Jerry

May 4 2021 - 12:52pm
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