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Social Security rules: Widows and full or reduced benefits

A widow is trying to dtermine if she

A widow is trying to dtermine if she is better off taking her own or her late husband's Social Security benefits. Photo Credit: iStock / Getty Images

I planned to take my Social Security benefit at age 65, and at 66 switch to my deceased husband’s benefit. However, I was told by the Social Security Administration that if I do that, my widow’s benefit would be reduced to 82.5 percent of his benefit.

If your widow’s benefit is reduced, it won’t be because you took your own benefit first. A widow can collect her own benefit as early as age 62 — reduced because she’s under full retirement age, or FRA — and then, after her FRA, switch to an unreduced widow’s benefit. The same is true for widowers.

But there’s an exception to this rule if your late spouse was collecting a reduced Social Security retirement benefit when he died, says Linda Lauria, an SSA spokeswoman. In that case, your widow’s benefit is the higher of two amounts: the benefit your late husband was receiving when he was alive, or 82.5 percent of his full benefit. For example, let’s say your late husband’s unreduced retirement benefit was $1,200 a month, but he was receiving less when he died, Lauria says. (Why? Well, maybe he had taken Social Security early.) Let’s say if he were living when you reach FRA, he’d be collecting $910 a month. In that case, your widow’s benefit is whichever is greater: $910 or 82.5 percent of $1,200. In this example, you’d get $990, which is 82.5 percent of $1,200.

If your own unreduced benefit is bigger, your best plan is to take the smaller widow’s benefit at 65 and switch to your own benefit at 66.

THE BOTTOM LINE If your deceased husband received a reduced retirement benefit, you can’t collect his full benefit as his widow, even if you apply for it after reaching your full retirement age.


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