Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

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Mintee
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Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by Mintee » Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:57 pm

My husband died less than a year ago. He was receiving Social Security. I will be full retirement age in December. I believe that I can receive 100% of my husband's benefit at my full retirement age, then switch to my own benefit at age 70. I am not sure that this is advantageous (I don't know that my benefit at 70 will be more than his benefit amount), but I know that his benefit will be more than mine at age 66.

Two questions:
1. I want to preserve the option of filing for my own benefit at age 70. I have read about the widows/widowers who have not had this option clearly explained to them and, as a result, lost money. What can I do to preserve my benefit?
2. Is it better to apply online (or by telephone) or in person at the local SS office? Our local Social Security office (Texas) is staffed by people who, sadly, are not pleasant. There is always a long, long wait for service, and they do not accept appointments. However, I will gladly put up with this if it's better to apply in person.

I had investigated this some years ago, but I find that, with the death of my husband, I have some distorted thinking. I want to make the best choices. I am eager for your help.

Thank you very much.

delamer
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by delamer » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:01 pm

I am sorry for your loss.

Are you receiving any Social Security on your husband’s record now?

drawpoker
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by drawpoker » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:07 pm

Condolences on the passing of your husband.

If you know what your benefit amount is at your FRA, and your FRA is 66, it is easy to compute what it would be by waiting to age 70.

Just add 32%.

willyd123
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by willyd123 » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:25 pm

Hello -

Sorry for your loss.

I believe I can answer question 1.

You may take a spousal benefit at anytime beginning at age 62 if your spouse has begun their worker benefit (but it is discounted if you start it prior to your FRA) and it does not grow if you start the spousal benefit after your FRA. And you may switch to your own workers benefit which will grow 8% per year from age 66 to age 70 (total growth of 32%). You don't need to do anything to preserve it. It will be available.

You can get an estimate of you worker benefit at your FRA and at age 70 by going onto the Social Security website or visiting an office. You should compare these amounts to your spousal benefit amount to determine which is higher. Even if your worker benefit is greater than your spousal benefit currently, you'd probably be well-served to delay your worker benefit until age 70 so as to take advantage of the growth in your worker annuity amount. This assumes of course that you think there's a reasonable chance you live to at least 84.

JW-Retired
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by JW-Retired » Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:28 pm

Mintee wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:57 pm
I believe that I can receive 100% of my husband's benefit at my full retirement age, then switch to my own benefit at age 70. I am not sure that this is advantageous (I don't know that my benefit at 70 will be more than his benefit amount), but I know that his benefit will be more than mine at age 66.

Two questions:
1. I want to preserve the option of filing for my own benefit at age 70. I have read about the widows/widowers who have not had this option clearly explained to them and, as a result, lost money. What can I do to preserve my benefit?
So don't file for your benefit, just the widow benefit at your FRA. I don't think it can grow beyond your full retirement age and your own benefit will.
https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ ... rtred.html

Wife and I had good luck using a "phone appointment". You call your local SS office to arrange this and it might be months in the future. But so what,.... you have time and our experience was they called exactly at the appointed hour. I don't know if the person who called us was really at the local office or not, but they seemed to know their stuff.
JW
Retired at Last

delamer
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by delamer » Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:28 pm

willyd123 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:25 pm
Hello -

Sorry for your loss.

I believe I can answer question 1.

You may take a spousal benefit at anytime beginning at age 62 if your spouse has begun their worker benefit (but it is discounted if you start it prior to your FRA) and it does not grow if you start the spousal benefit after your FRA. And you may switch to your own workers benefit which will grow 8% per year from age 66 to age 70 (total growth of 32%). You don't need to do anything to preserve it. It will be available.

You can get an estimate of you worker benefit at your FRA and at age 70 by going onto the Social Security website or visiting an office. You should compare these amounts to your spousal benefit amount to determine which is higher. Even if your worker benefit is greater than your spousal benefit currently, you'd probably be well-served to delay your worker benefit until age 70 so as to take advantage of the growth in your worker annuity amount. This assumes of course that you think there's a reasonable chance you live to at least 84.
The OP IS eligible now for a survivor’s benefit, not a spousal benefit.

She would receive either a survivor benefit based on her husband’s record or a benefit based on her own work record.

Ruger
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by Ruger » Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:58 pm

Mintee wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 6:57 pm
Two questions:
1. I want to preserve the option of filing for my own benefit at age 70. I have read about the widows/widowers who have not had this option clearly explained to them and, as a result, lost money. What can I do to preserve my benefit?
I am sorry for your loss. I am in the same situation. I applied for widow's benefits and will not take my own until I turn 70 so it can continue to grow. You don't need to do anything to preserve your benefit.
2. Is it better to apply online (or by telephone) or in person at the local SS office? Our local Social Security office (Texas) is staffed by people who, sadly, are not pleasant. There is always a long, long wait for service, and they do not accept appointments. However, I will gladly put up with this if it's better to apply in person.
You cannot apply online for widow's benefits, you have to go into the office in person. Call and make an appointment and ask what paperwork you have to bring in. It's been awhile, but I think I had to take in a death certificate and a marriage certificate. They can tell you for sure. You can just walk in without an appointment which is what I did. I found that if I went in late afternoon Friday the place was almost deserted and I got right in.

drawpoker
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by drawpoker » Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:42 am

delamer wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:28 pm
willyd123 wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 8:25 pm
The OP IS eligible now for a survivor’s benefit, not a spousal benefit.

She would receive either a survivor benefit based on her husband’s record or a benefit based on her own work record.
Will chime in here to correct this. Before OblivousInvestor beats me to it. (As he is the one who corrected me about the terminology some years ago)

"Survivor benefit" is incorrect here for what the OP is referring to. It is "spousal benefit". Right or wrong, SSA makes no distinction whether the worker is deceased, or still living, when doling out the spousal benefit.

Survivor benefit, for which widow/widower and children under 18 are eligible, is based on an entirely different formula/calculations than the workers old age benefit amount. The pool of money available to pay survivor benefits (based on the worker's earnings record) is much larger than what is available to pay old age benefits at 62, FRA, or 70, based on the same record.

Probably it is better to just refer to it as some are doing, calling it the "widow's benefit" to avoid more confusion. Altho the SSA people would turn up their noses at that misnomer. :oops:

drawpoker
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by drawpoker » Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:57 am

Ruger wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:58 pm

You cannot apply online for widow's benefits, you have to go into the office in person.
I don't believe this is true. What happened to the telephone appointments?

That is how I applied for mine (widow's benefit) in 2009. When I made the appointment they told me to mail them the death certificate, marriage certificate, etc, which I did. Everything was returned in the mail fairly promptly. The actual phone conference (appt) worked just like it was supposed to, they called at the exact time as agreed. However, it took forever, nearly an hour. They asked some really obscure questions, reaching into the past for dates and details of events from 40 years ago :shock:

SSA has cut back so drastically on things in recent years. If anyone strolled into our local office without an appt they would get the bum's rush. Actually, it would be difficult to walk in anyway. Local office cut back hours to like 21 or 22 hours a week, something like open 2 and one-half days a week. Also heard that the lines then are like the ones on Black Fridays at Walmart. :x :x

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ObliviousInvestor
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by ObliviousInvestor » Fri Sep 21, 2018 6:25 am

drawpoker wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:42 am
delamer wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:28 pm
The OP IS eligible now for a survivor’s benefit, not a spousal benefit.

She would receive either a survivor benefit based on her husband’s record or a benefit based on her own work record.
Will chime in here to correct this. Before OblivousInvestor beats me to it. (As he is the one who corrected me about the terminology some years ago)

"Survivor benefit" is incorrect here for what the OP is referring to. It is "spousal benefit". Right or wrong, SSA makes no distinction whether the worker is deceased, or still living, when doling out the spousal benefit.

Survivor benefit, for which widow/widower and children under 18 are eligible, is based on an entirely different formula/calculations than the workers old age benefit amount. The pool of money available to pay survivor benefits (based on the worker's earnings record) is much larger than what is available to pay old age benefits at 62, FRA, or 70, based on the same record.

Probably it is better to just refer to it as some are doing, calling it the "widow's benefit" to avoid more confusion. Altho the SSA people would turn up their noses at that misnomer. :oops:
It is a survivor benefit. As I noted recently, your explanation is contrary to my understanding.

Survivor benefit = widow/widower benefit = surviving spouse benefit.

Spousal benefit = husband/wife benefit

Retirement benefit = old age benefit.

Each type of benefit (other than disability) has multiple names that are used in different places.
Mike Piper, author/blogger

drawpoker
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by drawpoker » Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:56 am

Well, if you say it wasn't you, you are probably right. It must have been the other guy here who is also the acknowledged expert on SSA matters and declines to post anymore on the public forums. He uses p.m. to contact forum members on SSA questions/issues.

Now I can't remember his user name :oops: Do you know who I am referring to? He would have been the one who corrected me on the terminology and gave the explanation on which is which. (This would have been around 3 or 4 years ago, nothing recent)

:?: :?: :?:

Incidentally, with so many states now making same-sex marriages legal, I don't believe SSA can use the term "husband/wife benefit" anymore, can they?

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ObliviousInvestor
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by ObliviousInvestor » Fri Sep 21, 2018 10:05 am

drawpoker wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:56 am
Well, if you say it wasn't you, you are probably right. It must have been the other guy here who is also the acknowledged expert on SSA matters and declines to post anymore on the public forums. He uses p.m. to contact forum members on SSA questions/issues.

Now I can't remember his user name :oops: Do you know who I am referring to? He would have been the one who corrected me on the terminology and gave the explanation on which is which. (This would have been around 3 or 4 years ago, nothing recent)
sscritic is the person you are thinking of. He has requested via email though that I note that he is confident he would not have said such a thing.

It seems likely that this was just a miscommunication at some point.
drawpoker wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 8:56 am
Incidentally, with so many states now making same-sex marriages legal, I don't believe SSA can use the term "husband/wife benefit" anymore, can they?
Sure, he's still a husband. There are just two of them. Or two wives.
Last edited by ObliviousInvestor on Sat Sep 22, 2018 7:32 am, edited 1 time in total.
Mike Piper, author/blogger

Mintee
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by Mintee » Fri Sep 21, 2018 3:07 pm

Thank you.

I am posting a follow-up for anyone who can benefit from it.

My first concern was in response to audits earlier this year that indicated thousands of widows/widowers were underpaid because they hadn't been informed of their choices at filing. I always intended to file under my husband's account at full retirement age, then (perhaps) switch to my own account at 70. I just didn't expect that he would die. So, I wanted to be sure that, when I file, I do this properly.

Second, I asked about where to file. I always prefer face-to-face. However, the office here is pretty awful, both from our own experience, from reviews and from others' reports. So, I thought maybe I could file online.

Today, I called the number on the Social Security website to file via telephone, as the instructions indicate. I had to leave my number to get a call back and, two hours later, someone did call me back. She asked for a lot of info, then told me she was only calling me to set up an appointment at the local office. The first available appointment is a month from now, on the anniversary of my husband's death. The timing stinks, but I want to get this over with. So, here at least, you must go into the local office to file a survivor application, even though that's not what the website says.

I wish I was filing for regular spousal benefits, of course, and I wish that I could go to the Social Security office in our home state rather than here. But, that's not what will happen. I am grateful that I've learned enough from this site that I have been able to function financially, both in preparation for retirement and for this unhappy circumstance. Thank you. I will post a separate thank you to thank everyone. Thank you so much! You have made this process easier.

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ObliviousInvestor
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by ObliviousInvestor » Fri Sep 21, 2018 3:18 pm

Thanks for reporting back with your experience, Mintee. If you have any followup questions later, please don't hesitate to ask. We'll be here.
Mike Piper, author/blogger

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dodecahedron
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by dodecahedron » Sat Sep 22, 2018 6:59 pm

Mintee, best wishes that all goes as smoothly as possible. As a widow myself, with another year before I reach my FRA, at which time I will be applying for widow´s benefits, I have so far only dealt with SS employees on the phone, but have found them knowledgeable, respectful, and sensitive to my situation. I do intend to go in person when I file for survivor´s benefits. I hope we both have good experiences to report.

Drawpoker, sscritic has requested by email that I share with you the following information:
¨sscritic¨ wrote:If you want to learn the rules, read Mike’s book. However, the rules a judge would look at are in the law. Pay attention to these sections:

(b) Wife’s Insurance Benefits

(c) Husband’s Insurance Benefits

(e) Widow’s Insurance Benefits

(f) Widower’s Insurance Benefits

https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/ssact/title02/0202.htm


You can also read the Code of Federal Regulations

404.330 Who is entitled to wife's or husband's benefits.

404.335 How do I become entitled to widow's or widower's benefits?

https://www.ssa.gov/OP_Home/cfr20/404/404-0000.htm

As you can see, the correct terms are wife, husband, widow, and widower. You can also get benefits as a mother or a father. For some unknown reason the informal or casual pages on the social security website use shortcut terms like spouse and survivor which can lead to some confusion.
Note: When sscritic recommends ¨Mike´s book¨ above he is referring to Mike Piper´s Social Security Made Simple. I heartily agree with that recommendation. Mike has a great gift for explaining complex subjects in a lucid and refreshingly simple way. His Oblivious Investor blog is also a great source of information.

Ruger
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Re: Best Way to Apply for Social Security Widow Benefits and More

Post by Ruger » Wed Sep 26, 2018 6:26 pm

drawpoker wrote:
Fri Sep 21, 2018 12:57 am
Ruger wrote:
Thu Sep 20, 2018 9:58 pm

You cannot apply online for widow's benefits, you have to go into the office in person.
I don't believe this is true. What happened to the telephone appointments?

That is how I applied for mine (widow's benefit) in 2009. When I made the appointment they told me to mail them the death certificate, marriage certificate, etc, which I did.
When I applied in 2014 they would not allow it to be done over the phone or online. I had to go in in person.
A widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse cannot apply online for survivors benefits. You should contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment.

https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html

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