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The three factors for widow or widower Social Security claims

Your spouse’s passing is a stressful time. Finding yourself in a position to have to plan for you future can be a daunting task. You want to make sure your financial situation is solid, but it can be tough to know where to begin. Determining your Social Security income is usually a good place to start.

If you’ve recently lost a spouse, you should be aware of the Social Security survivors benefits that you’re entitled to. By understanding the three main factors that the Social Security Administration (SSA) considers when deciding your benefits, you can be better prepared for your future.

1. Your age

You are eligible for survivors benefits as soon as you turn 60. However, you can collect more if you wait until full retirement age (66 if born before 1957, and 67 if born in or after 1957).

Here’s a further look at the role that age plays:

  • If you start collecting at age 60, you will receive 60 percent of your survivors benefits.
  • If you wait until full retirement age (66 or 67), you’re eligible for 100 percent of your benefits.
  • If you defer until after age 70, you may accrue delayed retirement credits, which could result in greater benefits.
  • If you’re disabled, you can collect survivors benefits at age 50, so long as your disability began seven years before your spouse passed.

2. The length of your marriage

The SSA does take into account the length of your marriage. Typically, the rule is that you’re eligible for survivors benefits if you’ve been married for at least nine months. However, military service, accidental death and whether or not you shared a child can be factors that waive the nine-month stipulation.

Also, if you were divorced after at least 10 years of marriage, you can claim benefits for your ex-spouse. If you remarry before the age of 60, and remain married, however, you are no longer eligible for said benefits.

3. When you start collecting survivors benefits

Maximizing your Social Security survivor benefits is a game of numbers. Along with age and length of marriage, you want to consider your own earnings when thinking about claiming your benefits.

If you’re still working while collecting your benefits, the SSA may withhold a certain amount if your income is high. Remaining in the workforce and receiving survivors benefits can also have tax consequences.

The higher earner also matters. Whoever made more money will have a greater payout, so if that’s you, it could be smart to collect your survivors benefits immediately and switch to yours when you hit retirement age.

Determining the best strategy for getting the most from your Social Security survivors benefits can be complex. It may be in your best interests to consult with an attorney who understands the Social Security system as it pertains to widows or widowers. By being thorough and proactive, you can much better position yourself for future financial stability.

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