In 2009 the Social Security Period Life Table approximated that nearly 20% of the American population will die before the age of 67. What this means for nearly a quarter of the population is that all of their retirement plans are going to be thrown into chaos, making it extremely difficult to know if, and when, any Social Security benefits will become available.
The good news (if you can call it that) is that Social Security provides survivor benefits for spouses, and even divorced spouses, of people who have passed away. Eligible widows and widowers as well as surviving divorced spouses qualify for the benefit (with a number of different stipulations of course) as well as for persons who are still caring for the child descendent who is either under 16 years of age or disabled in some way. Widows and widowers must’ve been married to their deceased spouse for at least nine months and people who qualify for getting Social Security benefits from their ex-wife or ex-husband need to have been married to them for at least 10 years.
Another good thing is that the qualifications to get these benefits are a bit less stringent than the benefits that are normally in place. Indeed, many spouses who are aware that they would qualify for Social Security benefits from their deceased spouse have found that that indeed they do and these benefits can be claimed from the age of 60 forward, two years before the normal minimum age that is usually required.
Even better, someone who may not qualify for Social Security benefits on his or her own record can actually start drawing income early from the benefits of their deceased spouse. Keep in mind that these benefits may be subject to taxation and talk to your financial advisor before you make any changes to your retirement cash flow and your tax planning. The benefits that you might gain from claiming your benefits before your full retirement age, especially if you plan to continue working, should be weighed also. Once you reach your full retirement age this earnings test will no longer need to be applied.
One strategy that can be used by a person who is already qualified to get their retirement benefits and is deferring those benefits is to apply for the benefits of their deceased spouse in advance. This will allow your own benefits to continue to grow but also give you an income from your deceased spouse’s benefits while you wait.
If you qualify for multiple benefits it’s imperative that you talk to a financial advisor to determine how best to claim them, and when. The fact is that planning for Social Security, and planning your retirement when you are a widow or a widower, can be quite complicated. There are many things that need to be taken into consideration and, as you can see, quite a few other benefits that you might not have even known about. Speaking with someone at your local Social Security office and your financial advisor is definitely a good idea before you make any big decisions.