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Ask the Expert: Spousal benefits on late wife’s Social Security record

I lost my wife to breast cancer in 2014 when she was 63. She worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 10 years. I’m 67 years old and still work, also for the postal service. I always earned more than she did. Am I entitled to any spousal benefits even though two years have passed since her death?

Yes, if she paid into Social Security for at least 10 years. And you can receive retroactive survivor benefits for up to six months. To learn more, make an appointment at your local Social Security office.

Since 1983, everyone hired by the postal service has paid full Social Security tax, says Linda Lauria, a Social Security spokeswoman. If your late wife worked before that, she may not have paid the tax for the 10 years needed for coverage. But assuming she was covered, your survivor benefit is the monthly amount she’d have received had she lived to her full retirement age. You can collect the survivor benefit while your own larger benefit keeps growing, and switch to your benefit later. (You can’t collect both at the same time.)

Since you’re older than your full retirement age, you can collect Social Security regardless of the amount you earn. When you’re younger, Social Security can temporarily reduce a benefit you collect while working. In 2017, for example, people under full retirement age who work while collecting Social Security forfeit $1 of benefit for each $2 earned above $16,920. Those who reach full retirement age in 2017 temporarily forfeit $1 of benefit for each $3 earned above $44,880 until their birthday month. Then their benefits are recalculated to make up for what was forfeited earlier.

THE BOTTOM LINE If your late spouse was covered by Social Security, you’re entitled to a monthly survivor benefit.



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