Spouses Guide to Social Security Survivor Benefits


Devin Carroll


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the Social Security surviving spouse benefit seems easy enough to understand but hidden in all those details or small nuances that can cost you or your loved ones thousands of dollars in missed benefits but if you invest the time to learn these rules you're not going to end up like the 10,000 people that a 2018 report found had been shortchanged just over a hundred and thirty one million dollars in Social Security survivor benefits and it's today's video I'm gonna tell you what you need to know so you can be confident that you understand the benefits available to a surviving spouse [Music] hey I'm Devin Carroll and this channel has one goal I want to help you break down all the complicated retirement rules so you can use them to your advantage if you are new here be sure to subscribe and hit that notifications bell - and I'm about to give you some good stuff that's going to help you in your retirement so everyone all to hit that like button let's get moving Social Security survivor benefits is one of those topics that I've already covered in this channel but after going back and looking at those videos they're just not as concise and smooth as the videos that we do today this is a crucially important topic so I want to go back and revisit this because I don't want there to be any confusion and be sure to stay tuned to the end of this video coz I'm also going to answer some of the frequently asked questions that I get all the time on my blog in the Facebook group or on this channel so they don't necessarily fit with this video but these are some that I get asked all the time so stay tuned to the end okay when talking about the survivors benefits from Social Security it's really easy to get bogged down in all the little details there's benefits that's available to surviving spouses and that's both ex and current spouses benefits to children benefits available to dependent parents and since all the eligibility conditions and payment amounts are different for each of these different types of benefits I want to focus this video on the Social Security surviving spouse benefit thankfully what you need to know can easily be broken down into three easy to digest sections number one who is eligible for a Social Security surviving spouse benefit - how is the survivors benefit for spouses calculated and 3 how to use a strategy that can make a big difference in the amount of survivor benefits you or your spouse will receive before we dive into those three sections let's briefly cover survivor benefits 101 to make sure we have the necessary context generally the surviving spouse benefit works as follows at the death of the first spouse the surviving spouse or L ex-spouse can receive the greater of their own benefit or the benefit of the deceased spouse which will then be adjusted for the following age of the survivor and I'll cover the adjustments to filing ages based on the survivors age in just a little bit one big difference between survivor benefits and normal retirement benefits is that the surviving spouse can file as early as age 60 or as early as age 50 if they are disabled so that's the very surface level rules now let's dive in so you'll know these rules don't always apply the first thing we have to know is who's eligible for the spouses survivor benefit well there's two types of spouses that will reference today there are these spouses who are current spouses those spouses who were married to the deceased when he or she died and then there are ex-spouses and they can both be eligible for survivor benefits however it's important to know that the rules for former spouses and current spouses have a few differences so let's break them down and look at them side-by-side here both current spouses and ex-spouses can begin receiving benefits as early as age 60 if the surviving spouse is disabled they can file as early as age 50 the important thing to note here is that the disability must have begun before the death of their spouse or ex-spouse whichever it may be or within seven years of the prescribed period which generally begins with the spouses death the one time where age is not a factor in this either 50 or 60 that we're talking about is if the surviving spouse has a child at home under the age of 16 this is referred to as a mother father's benefit or more commonly as a child in care benefit this is where the first difference comes in between eligibility rules for current spouses and former spouses a current spouse can qualify for the child and care benefit if they are caring for the spouses child under the age of 16 or at any age if that child is disabled and that's the child of the deceased but for an ex spouse the child not only has to be a child of the deceased it also has to be a natural or adopted child of the surviving spouse so what about remarriage then well it does affect eligibility with survivor benefits there are some remarriage roles that can cause confusion the general rule is that to receive surviving spouse benefits you must be unmarried the one exception to this and it applies to both current spouse's and former spouses is if you get remarried after you turn 60 and that's fifty if you're disabled if you do that you get remarried after those ages you can continue to receive your survivor benefits unless those benefits are being paid to you because of a child in care so for example if you're 51 and you're receiving child and care benefits and you get remarried you're not going to be able to receive continue to receive those benefits if they were being paid to you strictly as a child and care if that's the case remarriage is gonna terminate your benefit even though you do get remarried after 60 so please know the marriage after 60 rule does not apply for child and care benefits the biggest difference between the eligibility rules between current and former spouses is the length of marriage requirement for current spouses your marriage must have lasted at least nine months however there are multiple exceptions to that nine-month requirement and here's three of them one is if your spouse died due to an accident the second is if your spouse died in the line of duty while they were a member of the uniformed services and on active duty the third is if you divorce someone and then later get remarried to them only that first period need to have lasted nine months or the second period at which point it's a non-issue but while the requirements for a current spouse is nine months a former spouse must have been married for ten years and the exceptions to get around the 9-month link the marriage Ruhlman which covers current spouses will not work for a former spouse to get around the ten year requirement the one exception is for a child in care if you're taking care of the deceased child and it's your natural child or adopted child you know if you've gone through the process of adoption the ten year requirement is waived I want to make an interesting note here you have two years from the date of death to complete an adoption of the deceased child if it's not your natural child let me tell you for some this income could make a big difference but you're gonna want to talk to a family law attorney about all the ins and outs of adoptions because there's a lot there that I don't understand with an understanding of who can receive a surviving spouses benefit now it's time to move on to figuring out how to calculate how much this benefit will be the overly simplistic definition of survivors benefit is that the surviving spouse will receive the full retirement age benefit of the deceased spouse which will be adjusted for the falling age of the survivor now these reductions that we've mentioned a few times now will reduce a benefit if that benefit is taken before the surviving spouses full retirement age now if you've gotten used to the reduction tables for retirement benefits it's important to know that the reductions for survivor benefits are not the same the annual reductions for these benefits the survivor benefits is about 4% per year from full retirement age all the way down to age 60 but if you want to get really accurate about your benefit amount just know that that reduction occurs on a monthly basis and for anyone born after 1962 that benefit reduction is point three nine six percent per month that you file early and if your birthday is before 1962 there is a table at the Social Security Administration website and I'm gonna link that up in the description here along with a lot of other helpful resources too most of those are from the Social Security Administration but you can go down there and you can not only see the background on what I'm talking about here and see it's evidence in the Social Security website but there's a lot of other resources there to continue your learning now if you're the curious type and you want to know how to do this monthly reduction for yourself follow their each three steps and it's not very hard I promise first find your full retirement age for survivors benefit now this may not be the same as your normal for retirement age for retirement benefits but again you can look for a link in the description I'll have it there then you need to determine the months between your full retirement age and when you turn 60 so how many other months are there take that and last divide that by 28.5 the reason we divide this by 28.5 is that survivor benefits that start at age 60 are always reduced by 28.5 percent regardless of your full retirement age the result is the amount of monthly reduction to your survivor benefits this reduction is subtracted from the full retirement age benefit of the deceased spouse now while these reductions are important to understand there's a lot more to the story a lot of this calculation hinges on what the deceased spouse did before they died there are really three possible scenarios and let's go over them one by one deceased spouse scenario number one they died before filing if they died without filing for benefits these survivors benefit is simply the deceased spouse's full retirement age benefit plus any delayed retirement credits if they had delayed filing after full retirement age and that amount would be adjusted for the filing age of the surviving spouse with those monthly reductions that we just referenced deceased spouse scenario number two they filed before dying but filed on or after their full retirement age so if the deceased spouse had already filed for benefits before they died the amount of benefits left to the surviving spouse is dependent on the age of the deceased spouse when they filed for Social Security if they found owner after their full retirement age the surviving spouse will be entitled to the benefit that the deceased was receiving at death and again this benefit will be reduced for the surviving spouses full retirement age reductions and then there's the deceased spouse scenario number 3 they filed before dying and filed for benefits before their full retirement age now this is where things can get a lot more complicated and unfortunately this is where a lot guys who tend to die early fall before therefore retirement age in this case the surviving spouse benefit is still based on the deceased for retirement age benefit adjusted for the survivors filing age however it's limited and capped to the survivor by the actual benefit the deceased was receiving or eighty two and a half percent of the deceased full retirement age benefit now this limitation is often referred to as the widow's limit or by its technical name the RHIB limb which stands for the retirement income benefit limitations the widow limit is still a very poorly understood rule that many individuals don't even know about it's meant to offer some protection when a spouse makes a decision that can financially harm the surviving spouse but the result is often that individuals delay their filing decision for several years not knowing that their benefit is not increasing for them delaying their filing and in some cases I've seen this go on for several years and I'll cover an example of this so if your deceased spouse filed for benefits on the earliest possible date you're surviving benefit is still going to be based on their full retirement age but it will never go over that eighty two and a half percent mark even if the surviving spouse delays to the full retirement age now I know that can seem confusing so let's use an example of how this works to try to clear it up some let's assume that Joe had a full retirement age benefit of $2000 this means that his benefit at age 62 would have been fifteen hundred now if Joe filed for benefits at his earliest possible age and died a year later how much would his surviving spouse receive well without even knowing her age we know that she'll never be able to collect jobs full retirement age benefit he sealed that forever when he filed early however she won't have to take the 1500 he was receiving either instead her maximum survivors benefit will be one thousand six hundred and fifty dollars which is eighty two and a half percent of his full retirement age benefit but here's the tricky part at what age would she be eligible for this maxximum survivors benefit now many assume that she would have to wait until her full retirement age to get the max benefit of 1650 that's not correct instead she would be eligible to receive this benefit when she reads sixty two years and four months old this means that if she waited until her for retirement age to get benefits she'd find that her benefit amount would be the same as it would have been if she would have filed nearly five years before there would have been no increases now there's some great examples of this in a scenario in a 2001 research paper which I'm also gonna link up in the description so how do you know when your personal benefits will reach the cap well you can run the calculation that we referenced earlier and figure out what your monthly reduction is and when your monthly reduction totals seventeen and a half percent which is the inverse of eighty two and a half percent you'll know how many months away from your full retirement age at which your benefit will stop increasing because it's reached that eighty two and a half percent cap it's warning here be sure before you go off and file early that you have all your dates down and you understand all of these rules because if you file for benefits early thinking that this cap applies to you and you later find out that it doesn't there's nothing you can do to undo this unless you discover it within the first 12 months of filing the third part to mastering survivors benefits is to know how to use a strategy that can make a big difference in the amount of Social Security benefits that you can be paid as a survivor this is the strategy that the Office of Inspector General was referencing when they chastised the Social Security ministration in their 2018 report the one that we referenced back at the beginning of this video this is the restricted application that went away in 2016 for everyone except surviving spouses here the basics if you have both a benefit from work you did and a survivor's benefit it could make sense to file for one and later switch to another for example you could file for a survivor benefit as early as age 60 and switch to your own benefit at age 70 at which point it would have grown with those delayed retirement credits would be considerably larger or you could file for your own benefit and then switch to a survivor benefit at your for retirement age at which point you'd be eligible for the maximum survivor benefit but taking into account understanding that widow's limit role that we just discussed so let's use an example here and let's use Paula at Paulus for retirement age she has a benefit of $1,500 from her own work and a survivor's benefit of $1,600 now if she just went in to file at her full retirement age and that's what she had waited for the Social Security ministration would tell her that your survivor benefit is higher that's what you need to file for that's the benefit that you're entitled to without understanding that the restricted application can still work for Paula but that would not be the optimal decision for her so using the advanced filing strategy that we just discussed she could file for survivor benefits at age 60 now there would be a reduction due to her age so she would start receiving around eleven hundred and forty four dollars per month and in age 70 she could simply switch back to her own benefit which would have grown to eighteen hundred and sixty dollars over her lifetime that filing strategy could make a big difference in the total amount of income she receives now there's one last thing we have to talk about if you're thinking about filing for survivors benefit or really any other benefits before for retirement age you have to keep in mind that the Social Security Administration imposes a limit on the amount of income that you can receive from work now that limit changes every year in 2019 it's seventeen thousand six hundred and forty dollars that one exception is the year you attain full retirement age and in that year you can get up to almost forty seven thousand but once you hit for retirement age there is no limit on the amount of earnings that you can have while you're getting a Social Security benefit now I know these survivor benefit rules for spouses aren't as cut and dried as they seem it face value you may need to bookmark this video and reread certain sections of the notes and the resources that we've put below and re-watch certain parts of this video what may be a great help is to join my free Facebook members group it's very active and has some really smart people who love to answer questions about Social Security and from time to time I even drop in to add my thoughts so now let's hit some frequently asked questions that I get asked all the time all right can two spouses collect a survivor benefit from the same deceased spouse yes as long as the length of marriage rules were met they can all right how do I prove disability to get the survivors benefit at 50 well the disability standards are the same as if you were filing strictly for Social Security disability on your own record the Social Security ministration must determine that you cannot do a substantial amount of work because you either meet the requirements of one of the listed disabilities or prove that there are no jobs you can do and you also may need to find you an attorney to help you with this if you go to a link that I'll put down in the bottom you can do a quick disability evaluation and get connected with a pro who can help you out here is there a time window for the disability to begin after a spouses death yes you have to be found disabled by the Social Security ministration within a certain period and we talked about this some in the video but the Social Security ministration refers to this as a prescribed period and it begins in the month of the deceased spouse's death or at the last month you receive a child and care benefit payment the prescribed period ends 84 months after it can Social Security surviving spouse benefits be retroactive yes but only if the surviving spouse files after full retirement age in the maximum retroactive payment is six months of benefits what documents will I need to file for the surviving spouse benefits well the Social Security Administration has a list of all the documents you'll need along with some of the questions that are going to ask you at a link in the description can Social Security survivor benefits be garnished they can be garnished but only in very limited circumstances and I've written an article about that I'm gonna put that in description as well will Social Security survivor benefits increase if i delay fouling beyond my full retirement age No the Social Security surviving spouse benefits do not earn delayed retirement credits so there's generally no need to file for those beyond your full retirement age well thank you so much for watching have a fantastic day you