Dear Rusty: My husband just started receiving Social Security Disability in June. He is diagnosed with a terminal disease that likely he will rapidly succumb to. He will be 65 in Oct 2019. I turned 62 July 2019. I was his caregiver when he was at death’s door and was pulled back to 75% full life on immunotherapy. We see him starting to go downhill again; it creeps, then starts moving rapidly with the symptoms. I will be the caregiver again for round 2 that has no brakes to stop it this time – no do over. After he passes, when does the disability SS amount stop and what amount starts coming to me in my name as his widow, at my age? Signed: Survivor under age 65
Dear Survivor: Please know that you have my sympathy for what you and your husband are going through. Let me at least try to ease your anxiety by answering your Social Security questions.
Your husband’s disability benefit will cease in the month he passes. Although, depending upon the date, he may receive a disability payment for the month he passes (it would be received the following month), that payment, if received, will need to be returned to Social Security (SS). Social Security will only pay up to the last full month your husband is alive. The funeral home is supposed to notify Social Security of your husband’s passing, but you should verify that they will be doing that. Your benefit as your husband’s survivor will be based upon the SS disability amount your husband was receiving at his death.
Although your survivor benefit will be based upon the amount your husband was receiving, if you take it before you reach your full retirement age (FRA) the survivor benefit will be reduced. Your full retirement age for the widow’s benefit is 66 plus 2 months (versus your normal FRA of 66 1/2). You have a choice to take the reduced survivor benefit early (before your FRA), or wait until your FRA to claim the full amount your husband was collecting at his death. If you claim your widow’s benefit early, the reduction will be about 4.75% for each year earlier than your FRA that you claim it. Your survivor benefit reaches maximum at your widow’s FRA. You must apply for your widow’s benefit in person with Social Security and you should contact your local office by phone first to make an appointment. You can easily find your local SS office contact information at this link: www.ssa.gov/locator.
Taken at age 62, the survivor benefit will be reduced by about 20%. When to claim your survivor benefit might be influenced by whether you are eligible for Social Security benefits from your own lifetime work record. If you are eligible for your own benefit, you should look at what your own benefit will be at age 70. If it will be more than your survivor benefit, you should make sure to file a “restricted application” for survivor benefits to allow your own benefit to continue to grow. It will grow until you are 70, at which time you would switch from the lower survivor benefit to your own (you get whichever benefit is higher). Your decision on when to claim the survivor benefit might also be influenced by your plans for working. Since you have not yet reached your normal full retirement age (66 + 6 months), any Social Security benefit you claim before that (including your survivor benefit) will be subject to Social Security’s earnings test. The “earnings limit” for 2019 is $17,640 (changes annually) and if you exceed that, Social Security will take back benefits equal to $1 for every $2 you are over the limit. The earnings limit will be in effect until you reach your normal full retirement age, at which point it goes away. Once again, you have my sympathy for the difficulties you are experiencing, but fortunately your Social Security widow’s benefit will be available to you when your husband passes.
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit our website (amacfoundation.org/programs/social-security-advisory) or email us at [email protected].