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Maximizing Social Security survivor's benefits

Social Security survivor's benefits provide a safety net to widows and widowers. But to get the most out of the benefit, you need to know the right time to claim.

While you can claim survivor's benefits as early as age 60 (and even earlier in certain circumstances), if you claim benefits before your full retirement age, your benefits will be permanently reduced. If you claim benefits at your full retirement age, you will receive 100 percent of your spouse's benefit or, if your spouse died before collecting benefits, 100 percent of what your spouse's benefit would have been at full retirement age. Unlike with retirement benefits, delaying survivor's benefits beyond your full retirement age will not increase the benefit. (If you delay taking retirement benefits past your full retirement age, depending on when you were born your benefit will increase by 6 to 8 percent for every year that you delay up to age 70, in addition to any cost of living increases.)

You cannot take both retirement benefits and survivor's benefits at the same time. When deciding which one to take, you need to compare the two benefits to see which is higher. In some cases, the decision is easy: one benefit is clearly much higher than the other. In other situations, the decision can be a little more complicated, and you may want to take your survivor's benefit before switching to your retirement benefit.

To determine the best strategy, you will need to look at your retirement benefit at your full retirement age, as well as at age 70, and compare that to your survivor's benefit. If your retirement benefit at age 70 will be larger than your survivor's benefit, it may make sense to claim your survivor's benefit at your full retirement age. You can then let your retirement benefit continue to grow and switch to it at age 70.

For more information regarding survivor's benefits and estate planning, contact an experienced attorney today.

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