Social Security Q&A: If I Receive Early Spouse's Benefits, Am I Still Eligible for Survivor's Benefits Later On?

Commentary by Laurence Kotlikoff

Source: Forbes

Social Security may be your largest or one of your largest assets. How you manage it, by deciding which benefits to collect and when, can make an absolutely huge difference to your lifetime benefits. And those with the highest past covered earnings have the most to gain from maximizing their Social Security.

I’ve been answering questions and writing columns about Social Security each week for the past two years on PBS NEWSHOUR’s website. The editors at Forbes asked me to post a Q&A each day from those columns. To see all my columns, please go to my software company’s site, www.maximizemysocialsecurity.com, and click More Press below the WSJ quote.

Today’s question asks if, after receiving an early spouse’s benefit, it is still possible to receive a subsequent survivor’s benefit. The answer raises potential disadvantages of filing for benefits early.

Question: My question is simple, but I can not find an answer in any of the Social Security papers. I am 62, and next month, I will receive a spousal benefit check from Social Security. I do not have enough credit to get my own retirement. My husband is now 71 years old, and I am wondering if I will be a widow later on, can I still apply to get the widow benefit?

Answer: When your husband dies, you need to inform Social Security and then they will provide you with a survivor benefit, which should equal at least as much as what he is now receiving as a retirement benefit.

Please realize that by taking your spousal benefit before full retirement age — and, if your husband dies, taking your survivor benefit before full retirement age — you will be permanently reducing your benefits. For example, your spousal benefit, were you to wait until full retirement age (66) to collect it, would be 43 percent higher, for as long as your husband survives.