Will Cost Of Living Increases That Occurred After My Husband's Death Be Added When Computing My Widow's Rate?

Mar 22 2020 - 5:47pm

Myself: Widowed (08/01/2016)
D.O.B.: 03/25/1960
MARRIED: 12/29/81 - 08/01/16*
OCCUPATION: Nanny, Full Time, Salary - $33,800

Deceased Spouse:
D.O.B.: 01/29/1954
D.O.D.: 08/01/2016
Former General Contractor until
Disabled by Massive Ischemic Stroke (04/12/2012)
Was receiving SSDI & Medicaid at time of his death.

(I plan to continue to work until FRA, 03/25/2027. My husband was the higher wage earner of the 2 of us. If my understanding is correct, I am over the earning limit to file on my SS benefits that are allowed, as a Widow, when I turn 60 this week. Although my current income is Salary based, the position will end during the Summer of 2021, when my services are no longer needed. I have recently been diagnosed with some serious autoimmune diseases, including 3 types of Arthritis. I've just begun treatment. But, at the end of my current position, I will likely cut back on my long work hours. And my income will drop, likely within the range of income allowed to be also receive one's SS benefits early, although at a reduced amount.

With that, I will draw off my deceased husband's benefits as a widow. I know what his benefit amount was at the time of his death ($1458 mo.). Will that amount have continued to have received yearly C.O.L.A. since his death, up until I claim off his benefits at my FRA, and after?
Approximately what would the monthly amount be guesstimated to be of the amount those benefits would have accrued to by my FRA ?

Can I receive Medicare early as a Widow and at what age?

Am I understanding things correctly?
Life changed for us after my husband's stroke and then death. Financially depleted. But, I own our home. My property taxes are affordable by being in a small rural community. But, as I live in Illinois, I may have to move to make my future fixed income continue to work for me. 30 + years of paying on Life Insurance... cheated out of after Husband had his Stroke. Should have fought it, but I was busy trying to save my husband's life, aide in his recovery efforts and adjust to the changes in his life. So investments, savings, and life insurance is gone...

Thank you for your advice.


Hi Michelle,

I'm sorry for your loss.

Yes, Social Security cost of living increases (COLA) would continue to be added to the benefit rate that your husband was receiving, and those COLAs would be credited when calculating your widow's rate. However, if you file for widow's benefits before your full retirement age (FRA) your rate will be reduced for age, and at age 60 the reduction would amount to 28.5%. In other words, if you file at age 60 your monthly rate will be 71.5% of your husband's primary insurance amount (PIA). If you instead waited until FRA to claim widow's benefits you'd get 100% of your husband's PIA. By the way, a person's PIA is equal to their full Social Security disability (SSDI) benefit rate, or their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing at FRA.

Also, if you file for widow's benefits this year and you'll earn $33,800, Social Security would have to withhold $7780 of your 2020 benefits. That's $1 of benefits withheld for each $2 that your earnings would exceed Social Security's earnings test exempt amount of $18,240. So, for example, if your monthly benefit rate was $1111, Social Security would need to withhold your entire payment for roughly 7 months before they would start paying you.

You can qualify for Medicare based on entitlement to widow's benefits, but not until age 65 unless Social Security classifies you as being disabled for purposes of disability benefits. Even if you do meet the requirements for disability benefits, though, Medicare wouldn't start until 2 years after your initial month of entitlement to disability benefits.

I don't want to speculate on how much your widow's benefit rate would actually amount to, in part because Social Security will use 2 different methods to compute your unreduced rate, and your benefit amount will be based on the higher of those 2 computations. You should be able to get an estimate of your benefit rate by contacting Social Security.

What I can tell you is that, ideally, your best strategy for claiming benefits would likely be one of the following:
1) File for reduced widow's benefits now or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then switch to your own record at age 70; or,
2) File for reduced retirement benefits on your own record at age 62 or as soon as your earnings will permit at least some benefits to be paid, then file for unreduced widow's benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

Normally, you would want to start out drawing the lower benefit first and then switch to the higher record when it reaches it's highest potential rate. Our software (https://maximizemysocialsecurity.com/purchase) could sort all of this out for you and help you determine the best way to maximize your benefits.

Best, Jerry