Should You Maximize Your Social Security Survivor Benefit?

As we age, most of us don’t enjoy thinking about our longevity, but the fact is none of us are getting out of here alive! Preparing for this eventuality is the right thing to do and won’t leave a messy situation behind for those we love. When it comes to our spouse, the decisions we create together can make the difference between surviving with dignity and becoming a burden to our children. Social Security income decisions can go a long way towards protecting our financial longevity.

Generally, my recommendations include maximizing Social Security income for the spouse with the highest benefit. The best way to obtain this goal is to have the highest benefit earner wait until age 70 to begin his/her earned benefit. By waiting until 70, the benefit will grow 32% beyond full retirement age income and a whopping 76% larger than those who consider starting his/her earned benefit at age 62 (for those born between 1943 and 1954).

This strategy doesn’t always work as age differences, retirement goal expectations and other factors weigh into this critical decision, but for most of us it’s sound advice. Let’s use a couple of examples to illustrate the benefits. In both examples future Cost of Living Adjustments are disregarded.

Example #1: John and Jane are both 62 years old and plan to retire at age 66. John’s Social Security Full Retirement Age (FRA) monthly benefit is $1,800 and Jane’s is $2,200. In order to maximize the Survivor Benefit Jane should wait until age 70 to begin her earned benefit.

If the couple needs additional income at retirement to fund their desired lifestyle than I would recommend John begin his earned benefit at 66 and Jane “restrict” her application to a spousal benefit at 66. Social Security income at retirement would be $2,700 per month ($1,800 + $900). When Jane and John reach 70 years of age, Jane will begin her earned benefit. Their monthly income would become $4,704 ($1,800 + $2,904) and upon either John or Jane’s passing, the survivor would receive a monthly payment of $2,904. This strategy maximized John and Jane’s Survivor benefit, and allows the couple to realize desired Social Security income at retirement.

Example #2: John is 66 and Jane is 62 years old. Both plan on retiring immediately. John’s Social Security FRA monthly benefit is $1,800 and Jane’s is $2,200.
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