Will dad qualify for Social Security survivor benefits?

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Q. My father lives with me now. He has dementia and his wife passed away about three years ago. Does he get survivors Social Security? This is his third wife that he has outlived and I know with the second wife, he could not receive benefits. I don’t know whether he can receive benefits from his third wife. Can you help me?
— Caregiver

A. We’re glad you’re trying to look out for your father.

If your father’s third wife was entitled to receive Social Security benefits based on her work record, then he may be able to receive benefits.

Social Security survivors benefits are usually available to a widow aged 60 or older, or age 50 if they have a disability that occurred prior to or within seven years of the deceased spouse’s death, said Dawn Brown, a certified financial planner with Lassus Wherley in New Providence.

“Though survivors benefits can begin as early as age 60, at that age the benefit is reduced by up to 71 ½ percent of the deceased worker’s benefit amount,” Brown said. “At full retirement age a survivor receives 100 percent of the deceased worker’s benefit.”

If your father is entitled to Social Security retirement benefits based on his own work record, and it is more than survivors benefit, he may be able claim survivors benefit first and then leave his benefit to grow and switch to his benefit by age 70, Brown said.

“It may be best to go to your local Social Security office with your father and speak to representative,” Brown said.

Another consideration, Brown said, because your dad has dementia, you may need to be recognized as your father’s Representative Payee by Social Security if he cannot manage his own benefits and the claiming process. Social Security does not accept a power of attorney, she said.

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