Q&A: Social Security spousal benefits

Dear Liz: My husband is 78 and receives a large Social Security check every month. I will be 66 in two years. Should I take my benefit then — we may need it — and then switch to his benefit if he dies before I do? His benefit will be much higher than mine. I see that some of your older posted responses mention a spousal benefit. I think this is no longer offered as of a few years ago — is that correct?

Answer: Spousal benefits, which can be up to 50% of the primary earner’s benefit, are still very much available. What was eliminated for people born on or after Jan. 2, 1954, was the option of filing a restricted application for spousal benefits only, and then switching to one’s own retirement benefit later.

When you apply for Social Security, your spousal benefit is compared to your own benefit and you’ll get the larger of the two. When one of you dies, the survivor will get only one check, which will be the larger of the two you received as a couple.

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  1. Nellie Smith says

    My Husband passed away, social security said I can’t receive both my deceased husband and mind. why should my husband social security benefits stay to serve someone else I was married to him for 48 years. He paid in those benefits and his benefits are going to be left in the pot for someone else other than his wife who has toiled with him all these years. that’s very unfair of the system to take the widow’s benefit and give them to some one else or let the lay there in the bank. When clearly $ 1,200.00 or a little more is not enough to take care of his surviving wife.

    • Widows and widowers can take their own benefit first, then switch to their spouse’s benefit at full retirement age, if that’s greater, or take their spouse’s and switch to their own if that would be more.
      The surviving spouse gets to receive the larger of the two checks. It’s always been the rule.