Should I Be Allowed To Withdraw My Claim For Retirement Benefits?

Category: 
May 3 2017 - 9:28pm

This is about receiving survivor (widow) benefits after doing File and Suspend.
The facts:
My husband (dob 3/1/1949) and I (dob 3/5/1949) initiated File and Suspend on 1/14/2016, retroactive to 7/1/2015. We were both working full time. I suspended my benefits and he collected on mine. We received one lump sum payment for that period. My husband died suddenly on 2/29/2016 (technically his 67th birthday). I went in person to the Social Security office several weeks later and was given the first available face-to-face appointment on 5/31/2016. I informed the agent I met with about the File and Suspend (I had not received any further payments), and that I continued to work full time and intended to work until age 70, which he said was "not a problem". I began receiving Widow's benefits monthly. On 12/8/2016 I received an automated notice from Social Security telling me that I was NOT eligible for Widow's benefits and that I was required to return all of the money (about $26,000). I went to the Yonkers Social Security office on 12/13/2016 to schedule a face-to-face appointment to appeal this decision and took the earliest appointment I was offered, which was 2/2/2017. I met with an agent for over two hours, during which time she consulted her supervisor several times. It seemed to me that they were not clear on how to deal with my situation. In the end, they allowed me to submit a "Request for Withdrawal of Application" for the File and Suspend Application. The idea is that I would return the funds my husband had collected under that and that I would then be eligible for Survivor Benefits. I was told I would hear a decision within 30 days but as of yet I have heard nothing.
My questions:
1. Because I requested a meeting about this BEFORE the one year deadline (but didn't actually meet with SS staff until AFTER), do I fall within the one year deadline to rescind my application for File and Suspend?
2. Given these facts, should I be eligible for Survivor benefits? Should I retain legal counsel if Social Security rejects my claim?
Thank you!

Hi,

I'm sorry for your loss, and sorry to hear about the problems you are having.

I don't think there is a clear answer to your question given your circumstances. You would normally have to submit your request for withdrawal within one year of your month of entitlement in order to have your request approved (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/withdrawal.html), but Social Security will sometimes make exceptions if you missed the deadline due to misinformation you received from one of their representatives. It sounds like this may apply in your case, but it's hard to tell what Social Security will decide.

I really can't advise you whether or not to retain legal counsel if your request for withdrawal is disallowed. Hopefully, Social Security will see things your way without the need for further appeal.

Best, Jerry