If you’re a widow or widower and you are eligible for Social Security Survivor’s Benefits based on your late spouse’s record, you may have some timing decisions to make that could significantly affect your overall benefits. This is especially true if you are also eligible for Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record.
Timing the receipt of benefits is, as with most all Social Security benefits, the primary factor that you can control. If you have worked over your lifetime and you have a significant benefit based on your own earnings, it becomes even more important. The decision process is dependent upon the relative size of your own Social Security benefit as compared to the Survivor Benefit based on your late spouse’s record.
Own SS Benefit Greater than Survivor Benefit If your own benefit will be greater than the Survivor Benefit, it could be beneficial to you in the long run to take the Survivor Benefit as early as possible (as early as age 60) even though it will be reduced. You could then continue receiving this reduced benefit for several years to your FRA (or even to age 70) and then switch over to your own benefit, which will be higher and unreduced at that point.
Survivor Benefit Greater than Own Benefit If the Survivor Benefit is the larger of the two, you could take your own benefit early (reduced, of course) and then switch over to the Survivor Benefit later, at FRA. It doesn’t pay to delay the Survivor Benefit to a date later than your Full Retirement Age – the Survivor Benefit will not increase after that age.
By using one of these methods you are able to receive *some* benefit earlier-on in your life, and then switch over to the higher benefit later. Just keep in mind that earnings limits and other reductions will apply. Also, these same options are available for ex-spouse widows and widowers as well, as long as you haven’t remarried prior to age 60.