Is My Wife Entitled To Both Her Social Security And A Railroad Widow's Benefit?

Oct 17 2017 - 5:58am

Hi Larry,
I recently married and my wife is a widow. As A surviving spouse she receives her deceased husband's RR Tier 2 (NOT TIER 1) Pension as he worked for the PRR for over 30 years. We wanted to be legally married & with that being said the RRB reduced her Tier 2 monthly benefit by $264 - down to $1443.
My wife worked herself for 40+ years as an X-Ray Tech in 2 hospitals paying into SS (FICA) all that time.

She retired at 78 but has no SS benefit. When we were married SSA first told me because the Tier 2 RR surviving spouse benefit does not affect the the SS benefit she should receive her SS benefit.
In pursuing this with SS they then told us she's only entitled to one or the other.

In other words, is she entitled to both the Tier 2 RR pension & her SS Benefit ?
Thanks for Your Time,
John & Marilyn


I'm not an expert on the Railroad Retirement (RR) system, so I really can't tell you what your wife might be due from them. However, if she has worked 40 years under Social Security (SS) she should certainly qualify for SS retirement benefits. My understanding is that drawing SS benefits does not affect tier 2 RR benefits, so I believe she could receive both benefits.

I do know that if a person files for both SS & RR benefits, they can only receive a) the higher of their SS or tier 1 RR rates, plus b) their tier 2 RR benefit. I wasn't aware that a person could receive a tier 2 RR benefit without also receiving either SS or tier 1 RR benefits. I have no idea why your wife hasn't been receiving tier 1 RR benefits, but if she doesn't qualify for tier 1 RR benefits then it certainly sounds to me like she should file for SS retirement benefits.

Best, Jerry