Q&A: Social Security survivor benefits

Dear Liz: You recently wrote that someone’s Social Security survivor benefit would be the same as her spouse’s, including the 8% annual delayed retirement credits and cost of living increases. My husband just took his Social Security at age 70 but we were told I wouldn’t get his full survivor benefit as I took my own benefit at age 62. Is it because in the other question, the wife took her benefit at her full retirement age of 66 years and 8 months? So confused with all the rules!

Answer: The rules are certainly confusing, but the advice you got was wrong.

Your early start certainly reduced your own retirement benefit, but doesn’t reduce your survivor benefit. If your husband dies first and has the larger benefit, you’ll get a survivor benefit equal to his check and your retirement benefit will cease.

What does reduce survivor benefits is starting them early. Survivor benefits can start as early as 60, but you don’t get the full amount until you’ve reached full retirement age. (Full retirement age was 66 if you were born from 1943 to 1954. Between 1955 and 1959, full retirement age increases by two months each year; for people born in 1960 and later, full retirement age is 67.)

If you’re already past your full retirement age, you don’t need to worry about a reduced survivor benefit. If your husband dies before you reach full retirement age, the correct claiming strategy depends on your situation. Consider getting expert advice about when to switch to the survivor benefit.


  1. Sandra Valdez says

    What if I got Disability Benefits before I turned 66 and 8 months. Would I still qualify for survivor benefits? I am 60 and my husband is 73. I became disabled 55 and receiving benefits based on my own personal income.

    • Liz Weston says

      Yes, once you’re 60 you can typically get survivor benefits if your spouse dies and their benefit is larger than your own. Keep in mind that you’ll get only the larger benefit, not both. Also, Social Security disability benefits become retirement benefits when you reach full retirement age.

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