Most people think of Social Security as a Federal scheme that provides basic pensions for workers. It does more than that, though. One extra benefit provided is the assistance it gives to surviving spouses and other dependents of deceased workers who have paid into the scheme through their wages. Dependent children or parents of the deceased can claim survivor benefit in some circumstances, but the calculation of benefit for surviving spouses is the most involved.
There are two kinds of survivor benefit available to surviving spouses of deceased Social Security participants, the first being simply a single payment of $255. The second kind of benefit, the ongoing income benefit, is less straightforward.
The income benefit is only payable from the date it’s claimed, so any unclaimed benefit will be altogether lost. There is no back-dating provision. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the survivor should claim as soon as possible.
The Amount You Receive Goes Up Between Ages 62 & 67
As for retirement pension, the amount of benefit you get each month varies according to the age you are when you first claim the benefit, and that differential continues for as long as you live. In the case of the retirement pension, the earliest age at which you can claim is 62, and the percentage of the full amount you receive goes up until you reach full retirement age, which is 65 to 67, depending on your date of birth.
For survivor benefit, the earliest age at which you can claim is two years earlier, at the age of 60. At that age, the survivor will receive the amount that the deceased spouse would have been entitled to in pension payments, less a deduction of 28.5%. That is a sizable deduction over a remaining lifetime which is likely to be another 25 years or so. The deduction reduces over the years in the same way as the deduction from full pension payments, until full pension age is reached.
If the deceased spouse was actually receiving a Social Security pension at the date he or she died, then the maximum available to the surviving spouse is the amount which the deceased spouse was getting. So, if the deceased person claimed his or her pension early, at the age of 62, then the surviving spouse’s entitlement will never reach the amount they could have had if the deceased had delayed claiming until the full pension age or later.
The Survivors Claim Can Come At A Younger Age
If an early claim for pension is made, the pensioner then dies and the surviving spouse also claims at the earliest age, 60, then the benefit will be subject to two separate deductions, one for the original claim at age 62, then for the survivor’s claim at age 60.
It should be noted that a divorced spouse can also receive survivor benefit, provided the marriage was longer than 10 years, unless they remarry before the age of 60, and remain married.
Surviving spouses who are disabled can claim from the age of 50 rather than 60, and a surviving spouse with young children can claim at any age.