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Ask Dr. Fiona Chen Your Own Question
Dr. Fiona Chen
Dr. Fiona Chen, Certified Public Accountant (CPA)
Category: Social Security
Satisfied Customers: 482
Experience:  Former IRS Revenue Agent
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I will be 66 on November 8 2016. My wife died several years

Customer Question

I will be 66 on November 8 2016. My wife died several years ago. I receive a benefit for our son who is 10. I was thinking of going to SSA and asking about a widowers benefit. My wife has more than 40 years of covered earnings as of date of death. Please advise
Submitted: 9 months ago.
Category: Social Security
Expert:  Dr. Fiona Chen replied 9 months ago.

Dear Customer,

My name is***** will be working on this question and will come back to you, soon.


Fiona Chen, MPA, Ph.D., CPA, ABV, CFF, CITP

Customer: replied 9 months ago.
Thank you.
Expert:  Dr. Fiona Chen replied 9 months ago.

Dear Customer,

Part I.

Supposedly that your son can or is on the social security based on your wife's survival benefit. Or is he on your social security benefit?

Below citations and website links are all from the SSA website or publications. I will work them through point by point. Each point has a citation and reference for you to follow up to verify and for further reference.

"Your unmarried children, younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they’re attending elementary or secondary school full time), can also get benefits. Your children can get benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Under certain circumstances, we

can also pay benefits to your stepchildren, grandchildren, step grandchildren, or adopted children."

Part II.

The item caused me to pulse and do research is the newly implemented law. A higher earner cannot suspend on his/her when getting on the lower spousal benefit.

"The Bipartisan Budget Act of 2015 (Public Law 114-74; November 2, 2015), made some changes to Social Security’s laws about claiming retirement and spousal benefits. Section 831 of the law (entitled “Closure of Unintended Loopholes”) made several changes to the Social Security Act and closed two complex loopholes that were used primarily by married couples."

"How is the law changing? Under the new law, you can still voluntarily suspend benefit payments at your full retirement age (currently 66) in order to earn higher benefits for delaying. But during a voluntary suspension, other benefits payable on your record, such as benefits to your spouse, are also suspended. And, if you have suspended your benefits, you cannot continue receiving other benefits (such as spousal benefits) on another person’s record."

Part III.

So, one issue is whether your benefit amount is higher on your own or on your spousal benefit. And if you suspend yours, whether the new law will place restrict on you and your son, as well, for the survival benefit in relationship to your son.

We need to view this issue from the perspective of the lower earner, the survival spouse. Survival spouse or spousal benefit can never pass the full retirement age of the higher amount. At the full retirement age, the spousal benefit (including survival benefit) will be compared and go with the higher earner's amount.

Therefore, if you intend to suspend your own amount until passing the full retirement age, you cannot be on the survival benefit. Below are the references on the points.

1) So, we know that your son may need to be placed on your wife's survival benefit so that if you suspend your benefit, it will not restrict his benefit.

2) "Note: If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, we base your survivor's benefit on that amount. The maximum survivors benefit amount is limited to what he or she would receive if they were still alive."

3) Maximum Family Amount.

"There's a limit to the amount that family members can receive each month. The limit varies, but it is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of the basic benefit rate."

A child under age 18 (19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or disabled -- 75 percent.

That is, if both your son and you are on your wife's survival benefit, the maximum amount needs to be calculated. So, if both your son and you are on your wife's survival benefit, your total monthly is 175% of what she was getting at the time of her passing.

4) "If you are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record. If you receive benefits as a widow or widower or as a surviving divorced spouse, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse. In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate."

5) This is assumed that your retirement benefit is higher than your wife's. It seems that it would have been a good idea prior to your full retirement age to get on survival benefit for both you and your son. However, because spousal related benefit never passes the amount at the full retirement age, the law would deem that at full retirement age, the spouse would start to have the higher of the two. If you are on the spousal benefit, you would be switch to the higher of the two, your own or your wife's.

Part IV. Alternatives.

6) Well, since you are still two months away, it is suggested that you go to the SSA local office, or if you are good at on the phone with the SSA, to see whether you can apply for your spousal benefit now. That is, whether you can still get two months of the survival benefit or can they pay you back amounts which is unlikely.

7) But you want to make sure that by applying this, your own benefit does not start at age 66 if you intend to suspend it until later.

8) Then, you need to consider whether you want to suspend your own and have your son's on your wife's survival benefit.

9) Or is it more beneficial to you and your situation, to start your own now and have your son's benefit to be on your own, too.

10) Still, verify with the SSA to see whether you can be on your wife's survival benefit in the meantime to suspend your own. The SSA is the last authority on the numbers.

Part V.

The Contact information as below, if you would like to talk with the SSA. I personally like to walk into the local SSA. Some of them now accepts appointment to make sure that all scenarios are discussed and all scenario results are printed out for you to take home to consider.

Reminder: Full retirement age for retirement benefits may not match full retirement age for survivors benefits.

A widow, widower or surviving divorced spouse cannot apply online for survivors benefits. If you wish to apply for disability benefits as a survivor, contact Social Security at 1-***-***-**** to request an appointment. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call our TTY number, 1-***-***-****.)

Please feel free to follow up.