Q&A: When to take survivor benefits

Dear Liz: My wife started collecting Social Security at her full retirement age six years ago. I’m waiting to file to get my maximum Social Security payout at 70 in 2025. If I were to file today, my current benefit would be significantly higher than hers, and even more so if I wait. If I predecease her without filing before reaching my maximum benefit at 70, what are her options for survivor benefits? Would her new benefit amount be based on my date of death or my full retirement age, or can she delay filing until I would have turned 70 in 2025?

Answer: Your wife would receive a survivor benefit equal to whatever you had earned as of your date of death, including any delayed retirement credits. She wouldn’t increase her survivor benefit by delaying until 2025, if you die before then. On the other hand, she also wouldn’t face a reduction in the benefit for starting early, since she has already reached her own full retirement age.

You’re making the smart move by delaying because you’re maximizing both your own benefit and the sole Social Security check that one of you will receive after the other dies. But you don’t have to be married to benefit from delaying. New research by economists at Boston University and the Federal Reserve has found that virtually all American workers ages 45 to 62 should wait beyond age 65 to start Social Security and more than 90% should wait until age 70.

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