Dear Liz: I’m 70, collecting Social Security since age 62 and still working. My ex-wife passed away a few years ago at 67. We were married for 25 years. I read that I could collect on her Social Security benefits as the survivor, but Social Security said no. What did I not understand about this?
Answer: Many people misunderstand how survivor benefits work. You don’t get the deceased person’s check in addition to your current benefit. If the survivor benefit is larger than what you currently receive, you get that payment instead. When Social Security said no, the agency was confirming that your benefit is larger than what you could receive based on your ex-wife’s earnings history.
Understanding how survivor benefits work is hugely important for currently married couples as well. Many are not prepared for the sharp drop in income that happens when the first spouse dies and the survivor is left with only a single check. Having the higher earner delay Social Security as long as possible can help ensure the survivor has more to live on.
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