Dear Liz: I am 63 and retired but have not started to collect my Social Security. My husband will be 67 in March. He started his Social Security at 62. Our plan is to wait until I am 70 to start my benefit, which would make my monthly amount significantly larger than his. If I predecease my husband, would he be able to collect my benefit instead of his own? If I started benefits now, our checks would be relatively close in size, although mine would be a bit higher than his current amount.
Answer: If you had started benefits already, your husband’s survivor benefit would equal what you were receiving when you died. Since you didn’t start early, though, your husband will get more.
If you should die before your full retirement age of 66 without starting retirement benefits, he would receive a survivor benefit equal to what you would have received at 66.
If you continue to delay benefits past age 66, your retirement — and thus his survivor benefit — would accrue the “delayed retirement credits” that boost your Social Security check by 8% annually between age 66 and age 70, when your benefit maxes out. In other words, if you die between 66 and 70 without starting benefits, he would get the delayed retirement credits and larger check you’d earned even if your checks hadn’t started.
As you can see, delaying the start of benefits is a great way to maximize what a survivor receives. It’s particularly important for the higher earner in a couple to put off filing for retirement benefits for as long as possible.