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Ask the Expert: Social Security benefits for widows

My wife is 61 years old and working part-time. I'm 85 and collecting my Social Security benefit while working a little from home. Can she apply for her own (reduced) Social Security benefit at age 62, and still get my benefit when I die? Would there be any loss of income in the amount she receives after my demise? We've been married for 29 years. My ex-wife has received a benefit based on mine since I turned 65. I know my number could be up in this environment, and I'd like to give my wife the correct information.

Don't worry. As a widow, at her full retirement age (FRA), she will be entitled to a survivor's benefit equal to 100% of the amount you were collecting when you died.

Her FRA for collecting a widow's benefit is age 66 and 6 months. If she were widowed at a younger age, she could collect a reduced widow's benefit. (If she took her widow's benefit at age 65, for example, she'd receive 93.4% of your benefit.) Alternatively, she could choose to continue collecting her own smaller Social Security benefit and postpone switching to an unreduced widow's benefit until she reaches FRA.

The amount your wife receives as a widow won't be affected by the benefit collected by your ex-wife, or by the fact that she applied at 62 for her own Social Security benefit. Widows and widowers can collect a reduced Social Security benefit based on their own work record, and then after reaching their full retirement age (FRA), switch to an unreduced survivor benefit.

The bottom line

Widows and widowers often have more than one Social Security choice. They should make an appointment to discuss their options with an agency representative before deciding which is most sensible.

More information

ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou.html

benefits.gov/benefit/4410

TO ASK THE EXPERT Send questions to act2@newsday.com. Include your name, address and phone numbers. Questions can be answered only in this column. Advice is offered as general guidance. Check with your own consultants for your specific needs.

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