What to Know about the Spousal Social Security Benefit

Sunrise Senior Living  |  April 2, 2019
What to Know about the Spousal Social Security Benefit
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Most couples plan for a financially secure retirement for years before leaving the working world behind. While Baby Boomers are often part of a dual-income marriage, the generation before them isn’t. Among married senior couples, the husband was commonly the sole earner.

Many of these couples rely on Social Security benefits to help maintain their lifestyle, or at least protect them from falling into poverty, during retirement. Social Security spousal benefits provide additional retirement income to married couples when one spouse is the sole earner.

But what happens when the partner who paid into Social Security passes away?

When the sole or primary earner becomes ill or passes away, loved ones often worry how it will financially impact the surviving spouse. Here are a few facts families should know about Social Security spousal benefits.

Answering Common Questions about Social Security Spousal Benefits

1. What happens to spousal benefits after a death?

When a senior receives monthly spousal benefits, they are collected in addition to the benefits the spouse earns. If the primary wage-earning spouse passes away, the surviving spouse will forgo their spousal benefits and transition to survivor benefits.

2. What are survivor benefits and who is entitled to them?

Social Security survivor benefits are monthly payments made to family members after the family’s wage-earner has died. It isn’t just the surviving spouse who qualifies for these payments. Other family members may be entitled to receive benefits, including:

  • a widow or widower who is at least 60 years old
  • a widow or widower who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under 16 years old
  • an unmarried child of the deceased who is under 18 years old (older if they have a disability)

There are a few exceptions that allow families to collect these earlier, but this is the general rule.

3. How much money do survivors receive each month?

Social Security survivor benefits are based on the wages the person who died earned. The more the wage earner paid into Social Security, the higher their survivor benefits will be.

The benefit amount also depends on the survivor’s age and the type of benefit they receive. A surviving spouse, for example, who is retired and collecting benefits may be eligible to acquire 100 percent of their deceased spouse’s benefits.

4. When will survivors start receiving benefits?

If the primary wage-earning spouse already qualified for Social Security benefits at the time of their death, the surviving spouse could begin receiving partial benefits at the age of 60 (or 50 if they are disabled). To obtain the full benefit, the surviving spouse must wait until they reach full retirement age.

Talking with a Senior Loved One about Finances

We know it can be tough to initiate a conversation about money with a family elder. However, they are important discussions for aging parents and their adult children to have. If you aren’t sure how to get started, our article “Important Financial Questions to Ask a Senior Parent” can help give you a few ideas for moving forward.