Would My Sister's Survivor Rate Be The Same Even If She Starts Drawing Before Her Full Retirement Age?

Oct 13 2018 - 6:54am

Larry, my sister just found out her ex-husband of more than 10 years died in August. He had filed for Social Security in 2017 and was receiving a monthly benefit of about $2700. She will turn 66 on Feb. 2 of 2019. She has been told by a SS representative that she can file for a deceased divorced spousal benefit now and get payments back to his death. When she asked if she should wait until her FRA she was told it wouldn't make any difference, the payment would be the same. Is this correct? I think it lowers the monthly benefit slightly to take it before FRA, but I can't find the definitive answer and gave your book to my library a while ago. If this does lower her monthly benefit and she decides to wait until FRA, can she file for her own much smaller benefit immediately and backdate it 6 months. Thanks! Courtenay

Also, thanks for your advice. I utilized it to file for my spousal benefit while my own grows until I'm 70.

Hi Courtenay,

The answer to your question depends on whether or not your sister's ex started drawing his benefits prior to full retirement age (FRA). If he did, your sister's survivor benefit rate would be limited to an amount lower than her ex's full retirement age rate, or primary insurance amount (PIA). That's also the only way that your sister would be permitted to claim retroactive benefits for months prior to her month of filing. So, it's possible that what your sister was told by the Social Security representative with whom she spoke is accurate, but I can't be sure without knowing at what age her ex started drawing his benefits.

If your sister's ex didn't start drawing his benefits prior to FRA, then she couldn't claim retroactive benefits back to August and her benefit rate would be reduced if she starts drawing prior to FRA. The reduction percentage would only amount to roughly 4/10ths of 1% for each month that she starts drawing her survivor benefits early, though.

If your sister could get an unreduced survivor benefit by waiting until her FRA to file and chooses to do so, she can apply for her own retirement benefits now but she couldn't claim any retroactive benefits. Her entitlement date to reduced retirement benefits couldn't start any earlier than the month she applies for them, and if she's still working her benefits could be subject to full or partial withholding if she earns more than $17,040 this year. The same earnings exempt amount would also apply to her survivor benefits if she ends up filing for those this year (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/whileworking.html).

Best, Jerry