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Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sat Apr 25, 2020 6:37 pm
by Seasonal
I'm trying to help the wife of a recently deceased husband understand two letters she received from Social Security. He was receiving $1,544/month and she was receiving $534. Both were well past full retirement age.

One letter says they have changed her monthly benefit to $1,189.50 and will pay a $255 death benefit around May 6 (this has already been paid), in both cases because of the death of her husband.

The second letter says the have changed her monthly benefit to $1,688.70 because she is also entitled on another record. Her new benefit is $499.20 on her record and $1,189.50 on the other record (which total $1,688.70). It goes on to say she will receive $1,543/month starting around May 1 and that $144.60 will continue to be deducted for Medicare (1,688.70-144.60=1,544.10).

Her new $1,543 is approximately the $1,544 I would have expected. I don't understand the $1,189 or $499.20 or why they'd send two letters. I'm hoping she'll just be collecting the $1,543 and doesn't have to worry about the rest.

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sat Apr 25, 2020 10:36 pm
by David Jay
You say he was “receiving” $1544, does that mean that was the monthly deposit? I am guessing that his old benefit was $1688 and that Medicare was deducted such that he actually got a deposit for $1544 each month. Then everything makes sense, she will receive “his” benefit going forward, which is $1688 less $145 for Medicare.

The one dollar difference is a rounding error that some years will be in her favor and some years it will go against her. This is because Medicare calculates in pennies and pays in whole dollars.

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sat Apr 25, 2020 10:56 pm
by MtnBiker
+1

The $499.20 seems to be the amount she collects on her own earnings record. The $1,189 would be the additional survivor's benefit she will now receive to bring her up to "his" benefit going forward.

Previously she would have been receiving a total of 534 + 145 for Medicare = $679, which would typically be 1/2 of his benefit at his full retirement age, $1358. He was receiving $1688, which could be more that his full retirement age benefit, if he had delayed retirement credits (deferred or claimed and suspended until past full retirement age). There are other possibilities, such as she had a reduced spousal benefit due to claiming early.

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:46 am
by Seasonal
David Jay wrote: Sat Apr 25, 2020 10:36 pm You say he was “receiving” $1544, does that mean that was the monthly deposit?
Yes.

Why would they send two letters, including one with "we changed your monthly benefit to $1,189"? Why not just send one letter saying she will get his benefit going forward?

It appears you an MtnBiker agree she will actually get the right amount (given rounding rules) without the need for any further action. I had called Social Security last week to see if she needed to do anything to get her benefit increased and was told she needed an appointment to talk to a Social Security benefits person because none of this will happen automatically. Based on the letters, that was incorrect. I guess I'll cancel the appointment, which would have been a logistical problem.

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 6:20 am
by vtMaps
Seasonal wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:46 am Why would they send two letters, including one with "we changed your monthly benefit to $1,189"? Why not just send one letter saying she will get his benefit going forward?
Because her benefit is the sum of:

her own benefit earned on her own record
plus
a benefit from her husband's earning record.

The benefit from her husband's record is calculated to be just enough to bring her total benefit up to what her husband's benefit had been.

--vtMaps

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 8:07 am
by David Jay
vtMaps wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 6:20 am
Seasonal wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 5:46 am Why would they send two letters, including one with "we changed your monthly benefit to $1,189"? Why not just send one letter saying she will get his benefit going forward?
Because her benefit is the sum of:

her own benefit earned on her own record
plus
a benefit from her husband's earning record.

The benefit from her husband's record is calculated to be just enough to bring her total benefit up to what her husband's benefit had been.

--vtMaps
^ ^ ^ This

We say - as a shorthand - that the survivor gets the larger of the two benefits. This is only a shorthand and is not really the way the SSA keeps their internal books. They continue to pay the (low earning) spouse's benefit and "top it off" with an amount that will make it equal to the high-earner's benefit.

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 10:33 am
by OAG
Suggestion: Have her set up her own account at SSA Site. It will give her the numbers, the date of the next payment, where it will go. She can also get a "benefit letter" she can D/L as a PDF.

Not to muddy the water: check to see if His final month of benefits were/will be paid. When my wife passed away it took me a while to get the last month of benefits she was due - took the assistance of the SSA Advocate to get it.

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 11:55 am
by Seasonal
OAG wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 10:33 am Suggestion: Have her set up her own account at SSA Site. It will give her the numbers, the date of the next payment, where it will go. She can also get a "benefit letter" she can D/L as a PDF.
I've tried and failed, even after lots of time with phone support on multiple occasions.
OAG wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 10:33 amNot to muddy the water: check to see if His final month of benefits were/will be paid. When my wife passed away it took me a while to get the last month of benefits she was due - took the assistance of the SSA Advocate to get it.
His last payment was April 3 and he passed away about two weeks later. Should he get another payment?

Re: Survivor's benefit letters from Social Security

Posted: Sun Apr 26, 2020 12:34 pm
by pshonore
Seasonal wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 11:55 am
OAG wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 10:33 am Suggestion: Have her set up her own account at SSA Site. It will give her the numbers, the date of the next payment, where it will go. She can also get a "benefit letter" she can D/L as a PDF.
I've tried and failed, even after lots of time with phone support on multiple occasions.
OAG wrote: Sun Apr 26, 2020 10:33 amNot to muddy the water: check to see if His final month of benefits were/will be paid. When my wife passed away it took me a while to get the last month of benefits she was due - took the assistance of the SSA Advocate to get it.
His last payment was April 3 and he passed away about two weeks later. Should he get another payment?
His April deposit represented his March benefit. Since he not live for the entire month of April he is not entitled to benefit for April. No further payment (other than the $255 death benefit) . SS may try to reclaim the April deposit. Don't let them.