The amount of Social Security benefits a surviving spouse receives depends, in part, on when their deceased spouse began claiming benefits. However, the retiree usually doesn’t take survivor’s benefits into account when claiming benefits, according to a recent study, meaning that many surviving spouses will needlessly experience a significant drop in income.
When the retiree who is the higher earner dies, the surviving spouse will have their income drop, often below what they need to maintain their accustomed standard of living. Spouses of a worker who has died are entitled to the worker’s full retirement benefits once they reach their full retirement age. If the worker delayed retirement, the survivor’s benefit will be higher. Retirees have the option of increasing their surviving spouse’s income by delaying Social Security benefits, but according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, most retirees do not take their spouse’s future needs into consideration.
The study looked at whether greater awareness of Social Security Survivor’s benefits would affect claiming decisions. The study found that the retiree tended to take more immediate concerns into consideration, such as their health and whether they have another pension, rather than their Survivor’s Benefits. Giving the retirees information about how they could improve their spouse’s future financial well-being by claiming benefits later did not change their claiming decisions.
The study concludes that in order to protect surviving spouses who were the lower wage earner (who are still predominantly women), the government should consider providing Survivor’s Benefits in a way that doesn’t tie the surviving spouse’s benefits to the decision of when to claim benefits.
As it stands now, however, if you are the higher earner and are nearing retirement, you may want to take into account how your decision on when to claim benefits will affect your spouse if he or she survives you.
To come up with a plan that will best protect you and your spouse, contact your attorney.
To read the study, click here.
*This article is provided for persons interested in elder law issues in Virginia and across the United States. This article has been written by a practitioner in the field of elder law, but unless otherwise noted, the writer is not affiliated with ThompsonMcMullan, P.C. Nothing in the newsletter or the articles is, or is intended to be, legal advice or a substitute for legal advice. If you need legal advice of any kind, please consult an attorney with experience in that area of the law, whether in our firm, or otherwise.