Q&A: Survivor Social Security benefit

Dear Liz: When you discuss a survivor receiving 50% of their spouse’s Social Security benefit, are you basing the 50% on gross or net income?

Answer: The survivor benefit is up to 100% of what the deceased spouse or ex-spouse was receiving from Social Security, before taxes. If the spouse or ex starts Social Security early, that reduces the potential survivor benefit. If the spouse or ex delays Social Security beyond full retirement age, that can increase the benefit.

Spousal benefits, by contrast, are paid when the spouse or ex is still alive. Spousal benefits can be up to 50% of what the spouse or ex would receive at full retirement age.