When Should I Take My Divorced Widow(er) Benefit

Jun 3 2016 - 10:45am

Mr. Kotlikoff, I was married for more than 10 years, my ex-spouse passed away last year at age 64. I will be 63 this year. I have visited the social security office a few times to ask questions. I was given a printout last December showing the deceased ex-spouse benefit I would receive (shows how much it would go up each month until I turn 66). I would get from his benefit, more than double what I would receive on my own work record. I am thinking of retiring later this summer, 2016. The printout shows I would receive about $280 more per month if I waited to retire until I am 65, so I am trying to make the best decision for what I want in the next years of my life. My current income from work is actually less than what I would receive if I apply for deceased spouse benefits now, (which includes a pension I am receiving). I read your articles, I bought your first Get What's Yours book, I read the social security website. If there is anything I should consider that I've not included, please advise. Thank you, Catherine

Dear Catherine,

You really need to run our software here at maximizemysocialsecurity.com. What's best for your to do is very complicated and depends critically on whether your ex took his own retirement benefit early. This is due to what's called the RIB-LIM formula. You could possibly end up with more money by taking your own retirement benefit now and, if the RIB-LIM formula applies, taking your divorced widows benefit well before reaching full retirement age. The earnings test enters critically into all this. It could be that not working at all or earning just under the earnings test limit of $15,720 and taking your reduced retirement benefit right now and then taking your widows benefit produces the highest lifetime income. In short, you need to run a program that gets the earnings test right, gets the RIB-LIM formula (if applicable) right, and that you play with to see how different amounts of earnings between now and your full retirement age will affect your lifetime net income. Once you have a pretty good feeling for what to do, you should also run our ESPlannerPLUS software, which you can get at www.esplanner.com. It can take the results from our Social Security tool as inputs, but also help you understand your federal and state and FICA taxes associated with working longer. It's Social Security code is identical to that of our Social Security tool. At this point, it doesn't optimize over Social Security. But it does let you enter alternative strategies by hand. So the two tools together will help you figure out exactly what's best. We also have a $750 service -- Maximize My Retirement Income, which we market at www.maximizemysocialsecurity.com, where we can do all the work for you based on your data.

My best and sorry but you situation is actually very complex,

Larry