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Social Security: It pays to wait to collect SSA’s survivor benefits

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Q: My husband and I each received our individual Social Security retirement, although his amount was more. I was age 64 when he died a year ago but decided to delay starting SSA survivors benefits as a widow to wait for a higher amount. Until what age will they keep increasing if I wait?

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A: Differences exist between retirement and survivors Social Security benefits but, as with retirement, the younger you are when starting age based survivors benefits, the larger the reduction based on the number of months you are before full retirement age (FRA).

Survivors FRA is different from retirement FRA. For example, for birth years 1945 – 1956, the survivors FRA is age 66 compared to birth years 1943 – 1954 for retirement FRA age 66.

See www.socialsecurity.gov/survivorplan/survivorchartred.htm.

Another big difference is that age based survivors benefits to widows or widowers can start at age 60, compared to age 62 for retirement benefits.

Coming to your question, unlike retirement delayed retirement credits, survivors benefits do not continue increasing if you wait past full retirement age.

There is no point to waiting past your survivors FRA to start widows benefits through your husbands work record because they will not continue increasing just because you are older.

Of course, you can start to receive them earlier, with a reduction, if desired.

Along with your age, the widow’s amount will depend on your husband’s retirement amount.

By waiting until full retirement age, this will be approximately what he had received, with the total reached by adding the survivors increase to your existing retirement benefit.

Both women and men can receive survivors benefits.

Applications for Social Security survivors benefits are not online.

Make an appointment to apply about two months before you want to start by calling the national SSA toll-free number 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).

You already proved your birthdate for your retirement but will need to show proof of marriage to your husband now.

More about Social Security survivors benefits is at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.

Based in Grand Forks, Howard I. Kossover is the Social Security Public Affairs Specialist for North Dakota and western Minnesota. Send general interest questions to him at howard.kossover@ssa.gov. Read his online articles at http://socialsecurityinfo.areavoices.com.

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