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Ask Rusty: Octogenarian Asks About Wife’s Spousal & Survivor Benefits

By Russell Gloor

Date:

Dear Rusty: I am now 80 and my wife is 76, and we both took early Social Security benefits at age 62. When my wife took her Social Security, it was a lot smaller than mine, so they took a portion of mine and added it to hers. How does that work? Also, when I die, will my wife get all of mine or just a percentage?

Signed: Curious Senior

Dear Curious Senior: Social Security’s standard process is to pay a beneficiary’s personally earned retirement benefit first, and then add an additional amount as necessary to bring the payment up to what they are entitled to as a spouse, or as a surviving spouse. So, in your wife’s case, she is now (while you are both living) receiving her own earned Social Security (SS) benefit plus a “spousal boost” to make her payment equal what she’s due as your spouse. Your wife’s spousal boost was not taken from your benefit payment — you still get your own retirement benefit — but her spousal boost amount was computed by comparing the amount she was entitled to at her full retirement age (FRA) to 50 percent of your FRA benefit amount and then reducing her spousal boost amount because she claimed at age 62. Note: all Social Security benefits, except disability benefits, taken before FRA are reduced.

Regarding your wife’s benefit as your survivor, since her own SS retirement benefit is smaller, if you die first the added “spousal boost” amount your wife now gets will stop and be replaced by a higher supplement, which brings her total payment up to what she is entitled to as your surviving widow.

 As your spouse while you are still living, the most your wife could have received was 50 percent of the benefit amount you were entitled to at your FRA of 66, but she gets less than that because she claimed at age 62. However, if you die, your wife will get a higher total amount consisting of her personally earned age-62 benefit, plus a supplemental amount to make her payment equal to 100 percent of the amount you were receiving when you died. In fact, her benefit amount at your death may even be more than you were getting when you died, because she will get at least 82.5 percent of your “primary insurance amount” (PIA), which is the benefit you were due at age 66 (your FRA). 

Think of it this way — as your surviving spouse your wife’s total-benefit payment amount will be either 100 percent of the benefit you were receiving when you died, or 82.5 percent of the benefit you were entitled to at age 66, whichever amount is higher. And that will replace the smaller amount your wife is now getting as your spouse while you are both living. Of course, your wife will need to notify Social Security of your death and should do so in a timely manner to get the higher benefit she is entitled to as your surviving spouse flowing as soon as possible.      


Russell Gloor is a national Social Security advisor at the AMAC Foundation, the nonprofit arm of the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC). The 2.4-million-member AMAC says it is a senior advocacy organization. Send your questions to: ssadvisor@amacfoundation.org.


Author’s note: This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). The NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity.