Ask Larry

Why Is Social Security Advising My Client To Apply For Her Own Benefit If She's Getting A Higher Widow's Benefit?

I have a client who has a state pension of around $3K monthly in the PERS system. The client was widowed a few years ago and at first the widow benefit was heavily GPOd. Then SS came back and awarded the full widow benefit of around 3K and advised the client to claim their own benefit at 70. The client has less than 20 substantial earning years and a benefit that is less than 1/3 of the widow benefit based on their own earnings record. The widow is under the impression that the GPO was waived because they paid social security for the last 60 months in another state job in the PERS system while simultaneously working in a TRS job where SS was not paid. They have the SS GPO fact sheet where this exception is written on the pdf. I does appear to say this is an exception but I have never seen facts like this. Could this be a mistake? If it is not, why should the client ever apply for their own benefit?

Hi. There likely wouldn't be any reason to this person to claim her own benefit unless her own benefit rate would be higher than her widow's rate. If she does file for her own benefit, that benefit would just offset her widow's benefit dollar for dollar.

With regard to GPO (Government Pension Offset), yes it's possible that Social Security made an error in removing the GPO offset. I'm not sure if I'm understanding the facts involved. There is an exception to GPO if the government pension involved is based on a combination of Social Security covered and non-covered earnings, and if the earnings on which the pension is based were subject to Social Security taxes for at least the last 5 years of employment ( But, if your client receives a government pension that's based only on earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes, then that pension would almost certainly count for GPO purposes.

If Social Security decides that GPO should apply to your client's widow's benefits, then it potentially could be advantageous for her to claim her own benefits depending on the benefit rates involved. However, if your client does apply for her own benefits it sounds like own benefit rate would likely be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP)( Our software ( is programmed to handle both WEP and GPO calculations.

Best, Jerry

Mar 31 2022 - 5:00pm
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