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Special Rules for Widow(er)'s Benefits

Usually the maximum widow(er)'s benefit equals the retirement benefit amount that had been received by the deceased spouse. However, there are three exceptions to this statement.

  1. One special rule applies when the deceased spouse had claimed retirement benefits prior to his or her full retirement age. In this case, the maximum widow(er)’s benefit equals the larger of the following:

    1. The amount of early retirement benefits received by the deceased person
    2. 82.5% of the deceased spouse’s retirement benefit at his or her full retirement age

    For example, if the husband, with a full retirement age benefit of $2000 claimed at 62, he would receive a monthly benefit of $1500. If his wife survived him, she would be eligible for up to $1650 in widow's benefits, instead of just $1500, due to this special rule.

    The surviving spouse can claim either his or her own retirement benefit or the widow(er)'s benefit. If the surviving spouse is not yet 70, it would be wise to request a widow(er)'s report since there may be alternative claiming strategies from which to choose. If the surviving spouse is 70 or older, he or she can simply contact the SSA and claim the maximum available benefit.

  2. A second exception arises when widow(er)'s benefits are reduced by the Government Pension Offset (GPO). If a person has a pension based on earnings that were not taxed by Social Security, then widow(er)'s benefits are reduced by $2 for every $3 of non-SS pension benefits. So, the widow(er) stands to receive an amount less than the benefit received by the deceased spouse.

    To illustrate, suppose a deceased husband had retirement benefits of $1800/mo. His surviving spouse currently receives Social Security benefits of $900/mo and a non-SS pension of $1500. That pension reduces her potential widow's benefits by $1000, or from $1800 to $800 at her FRA. So, she receives no widow's benefits in this case.

  3. The third exception stems from the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). In this instance, if the deceased spouse was affected by WEP, the widow(er)'s benefit will be larger than the amount received by the deceased spouse. The reason: the WEP penalty does not extend to widow(er)'s benefits.

    As an example, suppose a deceased husband's WEP-adjusted retirement benefit was $1200, while his unadjusted benefit would have been $1500. The widow(er)'s benefit at her FRA equals $1500, not $1200.

Our custom reports for married couples and divorced and widowed individuals automatically take these special rules into account. Click on the link that pertains to you to learn more about what we offer!