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How is the Social Security spouse survivor benefit calculated?
Old 01-20-2011, 09:44 PM   #1
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How is the Social Security spouse survivor benefit calculated?

I am wondering about this. It seems from what I have read that a totally non-working spouse (i.e., someone who has not contributed anything to the system) will receive the same amount as if her spouse were still alive - and in fact would start receiving this at an earlier age so long as her deceased spouse would be at the applicable retirement age (i.e., so long as her age is at some minimum age, which seems to be lower than the regular retirement age.) Is this accurate?

I tried talking to the Social Security customer service, but of course, they can't give me a straight answer (my next step is to demand my Congressman get me a straight answer.) I understand that the formula could get more complicated if the spouse had some earnings (she would actually earn more than the primary amount for her spouse, as she would get her own primary benefit, up to some total maximum amount), but I suspect that if I were ever to get married, my wife would not work, so it would be a moot point for me.
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Old 01-20-2011, 09:49 PM   #2
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The answer to this and a lot of other SS questions is available in the FAQ section at the Social Security website. No congressional inquiry required.

Find an Answer to Your SS Question
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Old 01-20-2011, 10:26 PM   #3
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REWahoo, just to give you an idea of the incompetence of the SS administration at giving out information, I went the site you recommended, and got to the page Receiving benefits on a deceased ex-spouse's record. at which I clicked on the link for Survivor Benefits, which gave me the message:

Oops! Firefox could not find mwww.ba.ssa.gov

So I will ask again if anyone knows the answer to my question.
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Old 01-20-2011, 10:43 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swampwiz View Post
REWahoo, just to give you an idea of the incompetence of the SS administration at giving out information, I went the site you recommended, and got to the page Receiving benefits on a deceased ex-spouse's record. at which I clicked on the link for Survivor Benefits, which gave me the message:

Oops! Firefox could not find mwww.ba.ssa.gov

So I will ask again if anyone knows the answer to my question.
the link you posted works fine with IE on my PC.

Here is what it says:

Quote:
A deceased worker's former spouse age 60 or older (as early as age 50 if disabled) may qualify for benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. However, a former spouse does not have to meet age and length-of-marriage rules if he or she is caring for the deceased worker's child younger than age 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits on the deceased worker's record. The child also must be the former spouse's natural or legally adopted child.

Take a look at Survivor Benefits (Pub. No. 05-10084) for more information.

NOTE: Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse 60 or older, will not affect the payment amount for other survivors.

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Old 01-21-2011, 12:12 AM   #5
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OK, so basically the "retirement age" for a widow is 60, so long as the deceased would have reached his retirement age. And of course, there are benefits if there are any children under 16.
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Old 01-21-2011, 05:21 AM   #6
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FWIW, the link on the SS website has an extraneous "m" in front of the URL, so it's not really clickable unless your browser is smart enough to reinterpret it correctly.

Actual link (as the OP found it):
http://mwww.ba.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

Should be:
http://www.ba.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

So, "... the incompetence of the SS administration at giving out information ..." would seem to be a fair complaint in this case.
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Old 01-21-2011, 07:32 AM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
FWIW, the link on the SS website has an extraneous "m" in front of the URL, so it's not really clickable unless your browser is smart enough to reinterpret it correctly.

Actual link (as the OP found it):
http://mwww.ba.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

Should be:
http://www.ba.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

So, "... the incompetence of the SS administration at giving out information ..." would seem to be a fair complaint in this case.

That is odd, I have never had this problem wit the SSA website before. The links do not work with either Google Chrome or Firefox. I had to take out the "ba" in the link as well as the "m."

Anyway, here is a link to the pamphlet that discusses survivors benefits in more detail: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

Swampwiz said:

Quote:
OK, so basically the "retirement age" for a widow is 60, so long as the deceased would have reached his retirement age. And of course, there are benefits if there are any children under 16.
This is close but not quite right. Yes, the widow or widower can get benefits at age 60 but those benefits will be reduced. If she waits until her full retirement age the benefits will be the same as what her deceased spouse would have received if the deceased spouse had reached full retirement age.

The age of the deceased spouse doesn't matter, except in figuring out how many quarters of work that deceased spouse needed to make the surviving spouse eligible for survivors benefits.
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Old 01-21-2011, 07:21 PM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by braumeister View Post
FWIW, the link on the SS website has an extraneous "m" in front of the URL, so it's not really clickable unless your browser is smart enough to reinterpret it correctly.

Actual link (as the OP found it):
http://mwww.ba.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

Should be:
http://www.ba.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf

So, "... the incompetence of the SS administration at giving out information ..." would seem to be a fair complaint in this case.
I just tried that 2nd link and got:

Oops! Firefox could not find www.ba.ssa.gov

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Old 01-21-2011, 07:23 PM   #9
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Originally Posted by Martha View Post
Anyway, here is a link to the pamphlet that discusses survivors benefits in more detail: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/10084.pdf
SUCCESS!

OK, so the document says that a widow would get full benefits upon her reaching normal retirement age. As for getting benefits as low as age 60, she would get from between 71-99%. The question then becomes what is THAT formula?
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Old 01-21-2011, 07:27 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swampwiz View Post
I just tried that 2nd link and got:

Oops! Firefox could not find www.ba.ssa.gov


Maybe you should call your congressman/woman after all...
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Old 01-21-2011, 09:28 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by swampwiz View Post
SUCCESS!

OK, so the document says that a widow would get full benefits upon her reaching normal retirement age. As for getting benefits as low as age 60, she would get from between 71-99%. The question then becomes what is THAT formula?
I wondered about this as well.

I found in a very quick google search an article which says:

. . . she receives an actuarially reduced percentage of your benefits. At age 60, for example, she will receive 71.5 percent of your actual benefits. This percentage increases each year until she reaches full retirement age herself, at which point she begins receiving 100 percent of your actual benefits. Spouses younger than 60 may be able to receive benefits in limited circumstances, such as cases of disability or if they are caring for a disabled child.

Social Security - ElderLaw Articles



I also found this article which says:
If the surviving spouse elects to begin receiving survivor benefits before Full Retirement Age (FRA), the benefit is subject to actuarial reduction. Since a surviving spouse is eligible to begin receiving early benefits at age 60 (instead of age 62 for regular or spousal benefits), the “usual” age table is changed by 2 years. Whereas FRA for regular or spousal benefits for those born between 1943 and 1954 is age 66, for a survivor benefit, FRA for those born between 1945 and 1956 is age 66. (See this article for the FRA ages and this article actuarial adjustments. http://financialducksinarow.com/2238...ivor-benefits/

I can't vouch for these articles at all, it would be nice to follow up on this, but right now it is late and I am getting sleepy.
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Old 01-21-2011, 09:58 PM   #12
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More details from the SSA:

Your survivor benefit amount would be based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits would be. The amount you would get is a percentage of the deceased's basic Social Security benefit and depends on your age and the type of benefit you would be eligible to receive.

Note: If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, we base your survivor's benefit on that amount.

These are examples of the benefits that survivors may receive:

Widow or widower, full retirement age or older -- 100 percent of the deceased worker's benefit amount;
Widow or widower, age 60 -- full retirement age -- 71.5 to 99 percent of the deceased worker's basic amount;
Disabled widow or widower aged 50 through 59 -- 71½ percent;
Widow or widower, any age, caring for a child under age 16 -- 75 percent.
A child under age 18 (19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or disabled -- 75 percent.
Percentages for a surviving divorced widow or widower would be the same as above.


How Much Would Your Benefit Be?
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Old 01-21-2011, 10:03 PM   #13
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Still fussing around here, but this is interesting:

If you are receiving widows, widowers, or divorced widows or widowers benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow or widower.

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.
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Old 01-21-2011, 10:51 PM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
Still fussing around here, but this is interesting:

If you are receiving widows, widowers, or divorced widows or widowers benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow or widower.

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.

I am not certain if this is covered under the above, but what about this scenario:
Spouse takes his SS at age 64 at a reduced rate of course.
His nonworking spouse should be able to draw a benefit when she turns 62. It would be a reduced benefit based on the spouses benefit.
Now if the older spouse (the working spouse) dies, what options (if any) does the surviving spouse have? If she is now 64 would she be able to draw a greater benefit as a widow immediately, when she reaches full retirement age, or will her current benefit remain unchanged for life?
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:12 AM   #15
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The pamphlet I linked above says:


If you are getting benefits as a wife or husband
based on your spouse’s work, when you report
the death to us, we will change your payments to
survivors benefits. If we need more information, we
will contact you.
If you are getting benefits based on your own work,
call or visit us, and we will check to see if you can
get more money as a widow or widower. If so, you
will receive a combination of benefits that equals
the higher amount.


So, I think that the surviving spouse should get at least the same benefits as the deceased spouse was getting.
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Old 01-22-2011, 09:23 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
So, I think that the surviving spouse should get at least the same benefits as the deceased spouse was getting.
Based on three personal examples (my mom and two widowed sister-in-laws), this is correct. They each got their deceased husband's (higher) benefit amount the month following his death.
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Old 01-22-2011, 10:05 AM   #17
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
The pamphlet I linked above says:


If you are getting benefits as a wife or husband
based on your spouse’s work, when you report
the death to us, we will change your payments to
survivors benefits. If we need more information, we
will contact you.
If you are getting benefits based on your own work,
call or visit us, and we will check to see if you can
get more money as a widow or widower. If so, you
will receive a combination of benefits that equals
the higher amount.

So, I think that the surviving spouse should get at least the same benefits as the deceased spouse was getting.
Quote:
Originally Posted by REWahoo View Post
Based on three personal examples (my mom and two widowed sister-in-laws), this is correct. They each got their deceased husband's (higher) benefit amount the month following his death.

Thanks for that info.
I guess the door is now open for more fun with math. If the older spouse (the one with the record) plans an earlier (than average) death, his spouse might as well grab her benefit as soon as possible (62) and let the good times roll knowing that the bigger future benefit would be unaffected. OTOH, an unforeseen long life by the benefit provider could mess that math up. Nothing is simple.
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Old 01-22-2011, 11:25 AM   #18
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
The pamphlet I linked above says:


If you are getting benefits as a wife or husband
based on your spouse’s work, when you report
the death to us, we will change your payments to
survivors benefits. If we need more information, we
will contact you.
If you are getting benefits based on your own work,
call or visit us, and we will check to see if you can
get more money as a widow or widower. If so, you
will receive a combination of benefits that equals
the higher amount.

So, I think that the surviving spouse should get at least the same benefits as the deceased spouse was getting.
Thanks Martha. This page goes into my "Martha" file.

Ha
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Old 01-22-2011, 01:33 PM   #19
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Martha View Post
Still fussing around here, but this is interesting:

If you are receiving widows, widowers, or divorced widows or widowers benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow or widower.

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.

That was my case . My SS benefit is twice my SS survivor benefit since my late husband worked a lot of years under the earlier government plan. The SS office were great at calculating the information . When you do apply for The Survivor benefit you need in addition to your birth certificate your marriage license , a death certificate and if your late husband was divorced you need to know when , the name of the ex wife and an approximation of her birthday . If you were divorced you need the date ,name of ex , and his birth date and also when you were married .
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Old 01-23-2011, 11:15 AM   #20
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There are so many variables in the computation of widow's benefits. It depends on whether the worker was receiving retirement benefits and what age he/she started taking them, what age the widow/widower is at the time they are starting benefits and whether they had previously received benefits,etc. The Social Security Administration has the Program Operations Manual System (POMS) online. The section RS is for Retirement and Survivor's Insurance, RS006 is Determination of PIAs (Primary Insurance Amounts) and Benefit Amounts. RS 00615.301 is the Section for Reduced Widow(er)'s Benefits. There is quite a bit of reading there. Hope this helps.
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