Additional Factors About Survivor Benefits

Seems like there is always something to learn.  No matter how much you know and study a subject, it seems there are always factors that are uncovered that you weren’t aware of – and I find this sort of thing from time to time.  Recently, I have been made aware of a couple of factors that I had misunderstood previously about Social Security Survivor Benefits – thanks to my friend Dana Anspach, who blogs over at MoneyOver55.About.com. Thanks Dana!

Limit on Reductions to Survivor Benefits

The first factor is one that I wasn’t even aware of – regarding how reductions on Survivor Benefits work in a very specific situation. The situation is when the deceased spouse was not at least at Full Retirement Age and he or she was receiving retirement benefits as of the date of death.

In this situation, the amount of benefit that is used to begin the calculation for Survivor Benefits is the greater of

  • The deceased spouse’s actual benefit; or
  • 82.5% of the deceased spouse’s PIA

As such, in this particular set of circumstances, the starting point for determining Survivor Benefits cannot be less than 82.5% of the deceased spouse’s PIA.

Amount of Survivor Benefit Available

The second factor that I wasn’t clear about is where the deceased spouse was, again, not at least at Full Retirement Age (FRA) but in this case he or she was NOT currently receiving retirement benefits as of the date of death.

The part that needs to be clarified is that the deceased spouse’s age isn’t a factor in determining the amount for the base factor unless he or she would now be older than FRA had he or she survived to the date that the widow(er) applies for Survivor Benefits.

In other words, when the deceased spouse was not receiving retirement benefits and he or she would not have attained FRA by this date, the Survivor Benefit is calculated based on 100% of the PIA of the deceased spouse.  The Survivor Benefit is not reduced based upon the deemed attained age of the decedent.

On the other hand, if the deceased spouse would have been older than FRA as of the date of application for Survivor Benefits, the Survivor Benefit amount will be based upon the decedent’s PIA plus the applicable credits for delay beyond FRA.

In either case, the age of the surviving spouse is a factor – if the surviving spouse is less than his or her own Full Retirement Age (FRA), reductions will be applied to the starting factor mentioned above, based upon the age of the surviving spouse.

About the author

Jim Blankenship, CFP®, EA

Jim Blankenship is the founder and principal of Blankenship Financial Planning, Ltd., a financial planning firm providing hourly, as-needed financial planning and advice. A financial services professional for over 25 years, Jim is a CFP professional and has earned the Enrolled Agent designation, a designation that qualifies him as enrolled to practice before the IRS. Jim is also a NAPFA-registered financial advisor, which designates him as a Fee-Only Financial Advisor.

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