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How Would Filing Early Affect My Future Widow's Benefits?

Dear Larry, I wish I would have found this several months ago, which would have greatly reduced my stress and frustration. What a wonderful service! My husband and I had carefully planned our retirement strategy and then planned it again based upon the significant law changes five years ago. I am almost seven years younger than my husband, so we decided to definitely wait for his filing for retirement benefits until he was seventy because he planned to continue working past seventy, etc.. Because at the time, we were both in great health, we also decided that I would wait until I was FRA at sixty-six and 1/2 to file for my own retirement benefit topped off with a spousal benefit. We briefly re-visited the decision last year when I turned 62 because I could get a reduced benefit of $811 and because my husband was born in 1951, he could also file for a spousal benefit on my record for an additional $406 until he turned 70. We, however, decided to stick to our original plan and go for an optimistic "maximized" strategy since we were both in great health, had income coming in, etc. Sadly, in May of this year our world was flipped upside down when my husband was diagnosed with an aggressive disease which has given him bad odds of his living five more years. Our financial advisor then told me over the summer to go ahead and file for my retirement benefits under my record. Perhaps in part because of COVID, we have received much misinformation from SSA. We have tried the email, the national line and our local office and have never been given totally consistent answers. The primary inconsistencies have been about the deemed filing rule, letting my own retirement benefit alone until I could possibly maximize my spousal benefit and most importantly, the impact these would have on my widow's benefits. Since the widow's benefit is likely to be the most important part of our decision making process, I will focus on getting the answers on that. In 10 out of 11 responses from the SSA, I was told that unless I stayed entirely on my own retirement benefit, (despite the fact the majority of SSA officers have said I will not be able to do that even if I want to after my husband begins taking his benefit next year--they say they must deem me now or will deem me in February) I will be forced into a reduced survivor's benefit forever should my husband not live until when I am either 66 and six months or 66 and two months. Only one official told me that is ridiculous and that should his death occur prior to my turning 66 and two months, whether I was just getting benefits on my own record or getting benefits on my own record topped of with spousal benefits, that I could choose to wait until I was 66 and two months in order to get my maximized widow's benefits which are likely to be the highest allowed by law. The rationale of the other officials is that if I have chosen or been forced into spousal benefits, that I have no control over waiting to receive my widow's benefits should my husband die. Could you please address this? Thank you.

Hi,

I'm sorry to hear about your husband's illness. Filing for your own Social Security retirement benefits prior to full retirement age (FRA) would not lock you into a reduced widow's benefit. If you're drawing reduced retirement benefits and your husband dies before you reach FRA, you could opt to continue to receive just your own benefits until FRA and then file for unreduced widow's benefits at that time.

Although filing for your own benefits prior to FRA wouldn't be deemed as an application for widow's benefits, it would be deemed as an application for spousal benefits. So, when you file for your own benefits you'll be forced to start taking your spousal benefits effective with the first possible month that you're eligible for those benefits. Therefore, if your husband files for his benefits prior to when you reach FRA your spousal benefit rate will be reduced for age. However, you'd still have the option in the event of your husband's death to delay starting widow's benefits until you reach FRA.

It sounds like you'd probably be wise to start drawing your own benefits as soon as possible given your husband's prognosis. Your husband could then apply for spousal benefits and switch to his own benefits at age 70. The information available to me is limited, though, so you should strongly consider using our software (https://maximizemysocialsecurity.com/purchase) to fully analyze your options so that you can determine the best strategy for maximizing your benefits.

Best, Jerry

Posted: 
Nov 23 2020 - 8:58am
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