social security

Are you getting what you are due from Social Security? An internal report released in June 2020 by the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General revealed that more than 15,000 widows and widowers who are currently collecting retirement benefit on their own earnings record are entitled to receive larger benefits as survivors and have been underpaid.

When you have a spouse that has passed away, these dually entitled beneficiaries can choose to collect either their own benefit or the survivor benefit and allow the other benefit to increase. This Social Security program allows widows and widowers to draw one benefit without it affecting the other benefit, and the unclaimed benefit can continue to grow until you turn 70 years old.

Many people haven’t claimed those Social Security benefits properly. If you were married for at least 9 months at the time of your spouse’s death and you haven’t remarried prior to age 60, or if you’re a divorced spouse and you were married for at least 10 years, you are eligible for those widow and widower benefits.

According to the above-mentioned Social Security report, they estimate that those over 15,000 retirement beneficiaries were eligible for almost $194 million in extra widow benefits as of September 2019. Many people are not collecting all of their eligible benefits.

The Social Security office does the best that they can at putting together all of your eligible benefits. But the reality is that you have to understand the issues and how the benefit structure is set up for your specific circumstances. Under the law, workers at Social Security are forbidden to give you advice. They can explain how benefits work, but they cannot give you advice.

Understanding not just widow and widower benefits, but divorce spousal benefits, how other spousal benefits work, how the discounts work if you draw early, and how does income impact those benefits, are all critically important. The reality is every Social Security strategy for a person or a couple is going to be unique. Make sure you understand the rules and have a defined strategy that can positively impact your income in retirement.