How To Maximize Social Security Survivor Benefits


As a widow or widower, you are entitled to social security survivor benefits if your spouse dies before they claim the amount. However, few people know about survivor benefits because the information is not readily available. If you are one of those people that recently lost a spouse and are wondering how you can go about maximizing your social security benefits, the following information should help:

Maximizing Social Security Survivor Benefits


Claiming Requirements

In order for you to claim the survivor benefits you have to be at least 60 years old or 50 years old (if you are disabled). Additionally, since the amount is reserved for spouses, you ought to have been married to the deceased for a period of not less than 9 months. However, if the deceased did not tie the knot with anyone, the parent can claim the benefits.

A widow or widower is not entitled to survivor benefits if he or she was the deceased’s second wife or husband. However, this rule does not apply if the deceased remarried after the age of 60. Although former spouses cannot claim survivor benefits, there is an exception to this rule. If the deceased was married to an ex-spouse for a period of ten years or more, the former wife or husband can claim those benefits.


Timing is Very Important

So you have just found out that you are eligible to claim survivor benefits, what do you do next? Well, for starters, you need to be patient, especially if you have not reached the Full Retirement Age (FRA).

Waiting until you attain FRA increases the overall collected amount at a rate of 8% per year. This scenario happens because when you delay claiming the survivor benefits, the social security administration assumes that you have opted for a Delayed Retirement Credit (DRC).

DRC increases the total social security amount for those that wait longer (after the retirement age) to claim. However, if you are above the age of 70, the law forbids you from getting DRCs.

Here is a brief illustration of how the delayed collection leads to a higher payout. Let’s say that Sarah has been been married to Joseph for 36 years. If Sarah dies at the age of 66 before claiming her retirement benefits, Joseph can opt to delay the collection of his survivor benefits. Assuming that the primary insurance amount Sarah was going to get is $3,000. If Joseph postpones the collection of his survivor benefits for one year, the amount increases by 8% and he gets $3,240 every month.

Another postponement strategy that you can use is switching from your benefit to the survivor’s benefit. You can use this technique if you need the money urgently. Here is how it works: you first claim your primary insurance amount before you attain FRA and pay the penalty. Then, when you reach the FRA, you claim your survivor benefits. That way, you maximize both your social security payments.

Something that you should always keep in mind when you want to maximize the social security payouts: postpone the largest primary insurance amount first. For example, if the survivor benefits are more than your personal retirement claim, you should postpone its collection.

However, it is even better to delay both payments if you have an alternative source of income. Postponing the collection of the survivor benefits and your primary insurance amount increases both payments.



Maximizing your survivor benefits requires patience and some mathematical knowledge. Eventually, you will have to use the postponement strategy since you cannot claim both your social security and survivor benefits at the same time. If you need any clarification about the process, you can ask your social security administrator.