IT'S YOUR MONEY: It pays for widows, widowers to learn Social Security choices

October 14, 2013 Updated: October 14, 2013 at 7:00 pm
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If you have lost a spouse, it is worthwhile to take the time to fully understand the myriad Social Security options for widows and widowers.

As a widow or widower, you have the choice of taking Social Security based on your own work record or on the work record of your spouse - survivor benefits - in which you are eligible for 100 percent of your deceased spouse's basic benefit, at full retirement age. Reduced benefits are available as early as age 60, and if you are disabled, benefits can begin at 50. The full retirement age is 66 if you were born between 1945 and 1956, and gradually increases up to 67 if you were born between 1957 and 1960. The normal retirement age for everyone born after 1960 is 67.

If you started taking benefits on your own record, before the loss of your spouse, call Social Security to see if you can receive more in survivor benefits. Conversely, you can begin taking survivor benefits and later switch to benefits based on your own work record. You can switch even if you started taking benefits before reaching full retirement age.

Generally, you cannot get survivor benefits if you remarry before age 60. After age 60, remarriage does not affect your benefits. Additionally, at age 62 you are eligible to get benefits based on your new spouse's benefits. You may have the choice between benefits based on your own work record, benefits based on the work record of your deceased spouse or benefits based on the work record of your current spouse. You must choose from one of these options. If other family members are entitled to survivor benefits, there is a limit to the total amount that can be paid to a family.

If you receive a government pension, your survivor benefits may be reduced.

Your Social Security benefits will be reduced by two-thirds of your government pension.

Additionally, if you collect Social Security based on your own work record, and you receive a pension from a job where you did not pay Social Security, your benefit may be reduced due to the Windfall Elimination Provision.

Social Security can be very complex. Take the time to fully understand your options. Research them at


Jane Young is a certified financial planner, and she can be reached at

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