What happens to Social Security when a spouse dies?

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Q. If both spouses are collecting Social Security based on their own earnings, will the survivor keep the full amount as a survivor? We waited for our “full” benefit age to start collecting.
— Spouse

A. Social Security will provide benefits for a surviving spouse, but after one spouse dies, the surviving spouse won’t get a double-check.

In a situation like yours, where both spouses are collecting Social Security benefits based on their own earnings, the surviving spouse will receive only the higher of the two benefit amounts, said Kenneth Van Leeuwen, a certified financial planner with Van Leeuwen & Company in Princeton.

“This means, if the higher earner dies first, their spouse will have the opportunity to switch to his/her benefit amount.” he said. “If the lower earner dies first, then the higher earning spouse will continue to collect his/her current benefit.”

The surviving spouse does not collect a combined benefit of his/her benefit amount and the deceased spouse’s benefit, he said.

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This story was originally published on March 24, 2020.

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