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Social Security Benefits based on Deceased Spouse

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 Dear Rajiv,

 My question on the radio concerned when a relative, age 63, still working, whose wife passed away four years ago, could collect one-half of his deceased wife’s social security. He plans on working until age 70 or so, and will want to collect his larger social security benefit at that time.

 Please advise when he should file to collect benefits, his wife’s and/or his own. You indicated that he could collect his wife’s benefit at age 66.

 Thank you so much for your great radio show and your time.


 aka “Diane” from “Graham”

Hi Rajiv and Deanna,

Thanks for your note, Rajiv.  I hope you had a great Thanksgiving.


Deanna, Rajiv was definitely on the right track.  Until he is 66, his work will reduce or eliminate any Social Security payments.  At 66 that goes away, so he could take SS while continuing work.

As you know, your relative is eligible two ways, as a widower and as a worker in his own right.  The first step is to see which of these two amounts is bigger:  his widower benefit at 66, or his own benefit at 70.  (Those ages are when each benefit maximizes.)  He might know the amounts—at least roughly—or he can get them by calling or visiting SSA.

Assume that his own benefit at 70 is bigger.  Then he would file for the widower’s benefit at 66, and get 100% (not 50%) of his wife’s benefit.  Then at 70 he would take his own.

If the widower’s benefit is bigger, just take that at 66.

Neither of these pathways was changed by last year’s budget bill.

If he stops work before 66, he could immediately take the smaller payment, then switch to the bigger one at 66 (for the widower’s payment) or 70 (for his own).

Reference:, especially the second bullet under “When you should apply.”

He should be sure to run his plan by SSA before committing to it, for example when he applies at 66.

Hope this helps.  Best wishes for warm and meaningful holidays.

 Andy Landis

Thinking Retirement



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