Will my younger wife get my Social Security when I die?

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Q. My wife is 13 years younger than I am. If I die before she retires, what happens to my Social Security?
— Husband

A. It’s good that you’re trying to plan ahead.

Your assumption that you may predecease your wife given your age difference is a reasonable one, and it’s great that you are looking out for your wife.

Women live five years longer than men on average, said Jeanne Kane, a certified financial planner with JFL Total Wealth Management in Boonton.

Upon your death, the first thing Social Security will do is to give your wife a one-time $255 lump sum death benefit, Kane said.

“A nice gesture that won’t go far, but every little bit helps,” she said.

Then there are survivor benefit options.

A widow or widower is potentially eligible to receive their deceased spouse’s benefits as are dependent children, Kane said.

“Your wife will be eligible for your benefits if you are ‘fully insured,’” Kane said. “Fully insured is when you’ve paid 40 quarters into the social security system.

Essentially, if you’ve worked for 10 years full time, you’re good and she can claim spousal survivor benefits.”

Her age will determine when she’s eligible for survivor benefits, Kane said, noting she needs to be at least 60 in order to claim spousal survivor benefits.
Her age when she claims will also determine how much she gets, Kane said.

“While claiming at age 60 starts the income flowing, she’ll get a reduced benefit,” she said. “If she waits to claim until her full retirement age (FRA) or older, then she’ll get 100% of the eligible benefit.”

If she was born in 1960 or later, her full retirement age is 67. If she was born before 1960, then her FRA is slightly lower.

“If your wife can afford it, it pays for her to wait to claim,” Kane said. “That’s because if she claims at 60 but before 67, then she would get between 71.5% and 99% of your basic benefit. The closer that she is to 67 when she claims, higher the benefit.”

The amount that your wife gets depends not only on how old she is when she claims, but it also depends on how much you were receiving when you died.

If you claimed before your FRA, and your wife claims early before FRA, then both benefits are reduced, she said. It’s a double whammy.

So, what can you do to help her get the most out of Social Security?

“You should wait to claim until you’re 70. This will give you your highest Social Security payout. If your spouse waits to claim until her FRA, then she’ll be able to claim your increased benefit,” Kane said.

For every year that you wait after your full retirement age, your benefit increases by 8%. So, if your FRA age is 67, and you wait until 70 to claim your benefit, you’ll get 24% more, she said.

For example, if your benefit is $2,000 a month at 67. At 70, your benefit would grow to $2,480 a month, a difference of almost $5,800 a year.

“If you die and your wife falls in love and wants to remarry, she needs to wait until she’s 60 or else she can’t collect survivor benefits,” Kane said. “At 60 or older, she can remarry and still be eligible for your survivor benefits.”

Social Security can get complicated, so it makes sense to contact the agency directly to speak about the details of your own earnings records.

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This story was originally published on Jan. 6, 2021.

NJMoneyHelp.com 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.