A widower’s options for Social Security

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 Q. I’m a widower. When I turn 60, I will be able to collect Social Security survivor benefits. Prior to my wife’s untimely death, my plan was to take the Social Security benefit money at age 62. Now, because of this circumstance, I plan to take the survivor benefit at age 60 and then collect my own starting at age 70 — or before if I need the bump up a bit sooner. My survivor benefit at age 60 is about 20 percent less than what I would have gotten from my own benefit at 62. So this appears to be a no-lose plan for me. Of course, I would give all this up in a flash if I could have my wife back with me. Is there something I’m not thinking about?

A. We’re very sorry to hear about your wife.

You’re right on track, said Alison Williams, a certified financial planner with Stonegate Wealth Management in Oakland.

“Normally someone who applies for Social Security prior to full retirement age cannot file something called a `restricted’ application,” Williams said. “A restricted application means you are filing for benefits other than your own, typically spousal benefits.”

She said if you file for those, you are deemed to be starting your own benefit and are accepting a reduced benefit because it starts prior to full retirement age. An exception to this rule exists for widows and widowers.

“It makes a lot of sense for you to apply for the widower’s benefit when you are 60 and delay the onset of your benefit until age 70,” Williams said. “Delaying the onset of your own benefit to age 70 means it would be up to 32 percent higher than if you had started the benefit at full retirement age.”

The benefit that a widow or widower could collect, in general, is between 71 1/2 and 99 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit, said Jody D’Agostini, a certified financial planner with AXA Advisors/The Falcon Financial Group in Morristown.

She said you didn’t note if you are still working. If you are, there are limits to what you can earn while receiving Social Security benefits.

“If you have not reached your full retirement age, they will deduct $1 from your benefit payment for every $2 you earn above the annual limit, which for 2015 is $15,720,” she said. “In the year that your reach full retirement age, they will deduct $1 for every $3 you earn above a different limit, which for 2015 is $41,880, in the months before your birthday.”

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This story was first posted in February 2015.

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