Is My Friend At Risk Of Social Security Reclaiming The Funds They're Currently Sending Her?

Dec 4 2018 - 3:16pm

Hello, an older friend of mine recently lost her husband. She is 89. His monthly social security benefit was about $1,800 per month. She taught for many years in the Illinois public School system and collects an Illinois teachers retirement pension of about $2,400 per month. She had also been collecting $90 per month from Social Security based on Social Security eligible work. She had always been told that the GPO would wipe out any Social Security survivor's benefit she might be eligible for. After her husband's death, she received a letter from Social Security saying that she was eligible for his full benefit. That was quickly followed by another letter saying that she would be eligible for $800 per month based on a GPO calculation. Working backwards, it appears that that benefit was determined using her original teachers pension monthly benefit of about $1,400 per month. Her plan, though, had generous cost of living benefits. The best information I can find online says that the GPO calculation should be done using the current, up-to-date teachers pension benefit. Is she at risk of Social Security reclaiming the funds they are currently sending her?

We have written to Social Security with this question but have not received a reply since sending it 3 months ago.

Thank you for any insight or advice you might be able to provide....

Yours, Mag

Hi Mag,

Yes, it sounds like an $800 monthly widow's rate in your friend's case would likely be too high based on the amounts cited in your question. The Government Pension Offset (GPO) rate is equal to 2/3rds of the gross amount of the government pension, and that's based on the current rate and not the original rate. So, if your friend's teacher retirement pension is currently $2400, any Social Security widow's benefits for which she qualifies would be offset by roughly $1600 (i.e. 2/3 x $2400).

The exact amount of your friend's widow's benefit prior to offset depends in part on her husband's age at the time he started drawing his Social Security retirement benefits, as well as the Social Security retirement benefit rate that she's drawing on her own record. Most likely, though, her widow's rate prior to GPO would be roughly equal to her husband's retirement benefit rate at the time of his death minus her own Social Security retirement rate. So, if your friend's husband's Social Security amount was $1800 and her own Social Security amount is $90, $1710 would probably be a good ballpark figure for her widow's rate prior to offset. That would only leave roughly $110 per month (i.e. $1710 - $1600) to be paid to your friend as a widow benefit if her teacher's pension is $2400. And, if it turns out that Social Security has been paying your friend more than she's due, they'll ask her to return any overpayment as soon as they become aware of the error.

Obviously, I don't have all of the facts needed to calculate the precise widow's rate that your friend should be receiving, but if I was her I would follow up with Social Security to make sure that they're aware of the current gross amount of her teacher's pension.

Best, Jerry