It is no surprise that most people over 50 do not know the basics of how Social Security works according to a recent interview with Andy Landis the author of “Social Security:The Inside Story”. The one area that he is most asked to explain is:

  • In the case of a married couple who both work and have both reached full retirement age (FRA) and one spouse dies, is the surviving spouse entitled to all or a portion of the deceased spouses benefits?
    • The surviving spouse can claim 100% of the deceased spouse’s retirement benefits OR their own but not both. This can be significant for many.
    • If the surviving spouse is not FRA (67) they can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60. A good strategy for working spouses would be to delay receiving their own SS benefits until age 70, which based on today’s time table, would be over 30% higher than if they had collected it at FRA (67). They can choose to switch from their deceased spouse’s reduced benefits to their own retirement benefits at the age of 70, if their benefits are greater than their deceased spouse’s reduced benefit.

Remember Social Security is not going to personally call you up to explain your options in the event of the death of a spouse but when you ask SS directly they are extremely helpful in explaining your options.