There is usually some permanent damage done when you lose someone you love. Most of the time, this comes in the form of grieving for that special person. From the benefit of time, the intense grieving usually fades away. Survivors are left with the burden of surviving, and, financially speaking, sometimes there is little available to help.

When Social Security was passed in 1935 it was strictly a benefit for retirees. It wasn’t until 1939 that a change was added to the law that allowed survivor benefits. Survivor benefits have been and continue to be a very important component of widows’ and widowers’ retirement income. A survivor benefit is awarded when a surviving spouse has not earned enough retirement credits to receive Social Security retirement benefits on his or her own record, or when a survivor’s own retirement benefit is less than that of the deceased spouse.

For example, let’s say my retirement benefit is $2,500 per month and my wife’s retirement benefit is $1,000 per month. If I pass away before my wife, she would receive $2,500. Note that she wouldn’t receive $3,500 ($2,500 of my benefit plus $1,000 of her benefit), nor would she continue to only receive the $1,000 per month.

The sad truth is that many married couples claim Social Security retirement benefits without thinking about the financial outcome if one of them were to die prematurely. Having run hundreds of Social Security claiming strategy analyses, and discussing Social Security claiming factors over and over again, I cannot stress enough the importance of this financial planning event. Understanding key factors like health and longevity, economic conditions, other sources of retirement income, investment retirement accounts, and several other factors is important when making a well-informed decision.

A bad outcome may occur for a couple who decides to retire early, with no guidance, and voluntarily starts collecting Social Security as soon as possible. Let’s assume that the husband will receive $1,800 per month at the age of 62 and the wife will receive $1,400 per month. Together, they agree that $3,200 in monthly income is adequate to meet their retirement spending goals. Then, the husband passes away. The advantage of survivor benefits is that the wife would receive the larger of the two amounts, or $1,800 per month. However, this is $1,400 less than the couple was originally receiving when they decided to retire. This unfortunate outcome happens a lot, and it puts significant stress on other financial assets to produce the lost income.

Married couples have the added responsibility of making sure that in the event of a premature death the surviving spouse will be able to survive financially. Analyzing Social Security claiming strategies, with a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNERTM professional who understands the rules, is an important step in retirement planning.


This is intended for informational purposes only and should not be construed as personalized financial advice. Please consult your financial professionals regarding your specific situation.

Author Ryan G. Monette Financial Advisor / Team Lead

Ryan has been involved in the financial services industry since 2006. He completed the Rockford Chamber of Commerce Leadership Rockford program and in 2019 was recognized by the Rockford Chamber as one of “40 Leaders Under Forty.”

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