Most married couples are either unaware of the Survivor Benefit and how it works, or they simply do not realize its importance.
As a result, many married couples make a Social Security claiming decision that minimizes the size of the Survivor Benefit.
After one spouse passes away, the surviving spouse will receive only one Social Security benefit. They can continue to receive their own benefit OR they can receive the Social Security benefit their spouse was receiving – whichever is the bigger benefit.
Often times, it’s only after the first spouse passes away that the critical importance of the Survivor Benefit becomes obvious. However, by that time, it is too late to do anything about it.
The time to carefully consider the Survivor Benefit, and make it as large as possible, is the time when the couple is making their Social Security claiming decision. Better claiming decisions can create a sufficient Survivor Benefit, enabling financial independence and a better quality of life to the survivor.
In the table above, there are only two claiming ages, age 62 and age 70. The number circled in Column D, represents the combined total of the TWO checks Cris and Lee received when they were both alive and just before Cris died. The number circled in Column E, $3,576, represents the amount of the ONE Survivor Benefit check the wife receives after her husband dies at age 82.
When Cris claimed his Social Security benefits at age 70, the size of the ONE Survivor Benefit check of $3,576 in Column E is larger than the combined $3,385 total of the TWO checks in Column D that Cris and Lee received when they both claimed their benefits at age 62. This is how the higher-earning spouse can leave the lower-earning spouse a Survivor Benefit that’s like getting TWO checks in ONE.
The higher-earning spouse claiming at age 70 doesn’t guarantee that the one Survivor Benefit check will be as big as the combined total of the two checks they would receive if they claimed at age 62. However, in the majority of cases, that is the result.
By delaying claiming until age 70, the higher-earning spouse can often leave a surviving spouse ONE Survivor Benefit check that is larger than the combined total of the TWO checks the couple would have received had they both claimed their benefits at age 62. When claimed strategically, the Survivor Benefit can be like receiving TWO checks in ONE.
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