When Should I Start Drawing Widow's Benefits?

Mar 23 2017 - 8:45am

Widow, never remarried, husband disabled July 2003, began receiving SS Disability Nov. 2003 (age 53 but Nov. 11 age 54), deceased Aug. 2011. Have been employed, never applied for nor received any of husband’s SS. Want to receive spousal benefits at age 66, Sept. 2018, receive my SS at age 70. What procedure on my behalf will ensure full spousal benefit age 66-70, my full benefit at age 70 which will be greater than husband’s SS?

Get What's Yours (Copyright 2015) purchased and read--excellent resource


I'm sorry for your loss.

Assuming that your own retirement rate at 70 will be higher than your widow's benefit, you would want to start drawing your widow's benefits as early as possible, even if the rate is reduced. You can potentially draw reduced widow's benefits as early as age 60, or even 50 if you're disabled, although the Social Security earnings test (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking2.html) could limit the benefits you could receive prior to full retirement age (FRA).

Assuming that your earnings would permit you to receive widow's benefits prior to FRA, the reason that you would not want to wait until age 66 to file is because you want to maximize the total amount of widow's benefits that you would receive prior to switching to your own higher rate at age 70. And, 10 years of reduced widow's benefits starting at age 60 would amount to substantially more 4 years of unreduced widow's benefits starting at age 66.

The maximization software available on this website is programmed to handle earnings test considerations, so it can help you determine the best time to file for your widow's benefits. Whenever you file for widow's benefits, you will want to be sure to specify that you do not want your application to be considered as an application for retirement benefits on your own record. You can then file separately for your retirement benefits when you reach age 70.

And finally, for others who may be reading this, be sure to get to look for the revised edition of Larry's book, which incorporates the amendments passed by Congress in late 2015 (http://www.getwhatsyours.org/laurence-kotlikoff/).

Best, Jerry