Social Security benefits for surviving spouse

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Q. I am 79 and my wife is 71 and we are both receiving our Social Security benefits currently. When I die, will my wife receive survivors benefits from Social Security and, if so, can you tell me approximately how much they would be as a percentage of my benefits?
— The older one

A. The Social Security you and your wife receive depend on your working histories, but there are some general rules that will help you better understand how benefits can work for a couple.

When you worked, you paid in Social Security taxes, and some of those taxes go towards survivors benefits, said Roy Williams, president and founder of Prestige Wealth Management in Flemington and Millburn.

He said if you are eligible to receive your own Social Security benefits, then you have worked enough years to have earned survivors benefits for your spouse.

“The number of years you need to work to earn survivors benefits depends on how old you are when you die, but as long as you have worked at least 10 years, you have earned the benefit, he said.

In general, the survivor will receive the higher of your two benefits.

For a simple example, Williams said, if you were receiving $3,000 a month and your spouse is receiving $2,000 a month, after you pass away she will receive $3,000 per month total.

“If your wife is currently getting benefits based on your work, she will switch over to survivors benefits when she (or the funeral home) reports your death to Social Security,” Williams said. “If she is receiving benefits based off of her own work record and your base benefit is greater than hers, she’ll get a combination of benefits (her own plus survivors benefit) to equal the higher amount ($3,000 in the above example).”

If you were getting a reduced benefit because you claimed benefits before your Full Retirement Age, her survivors benefit is based off that reduced amount as well, Williams said.

Also note that if your wife remarries, she will still be entitled to 100 percent of your benefit because she was over the age of 60 when you died, Williams said. Also, since she is age 70, past her full retirement age, if she works, her income will not reduce her benefits.

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This post was first published in August 2016. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.