The amount of Social Security benefits a surviving spouse receives depends, in part, on when their deceased spouse began claiming benefits. However, husbands usually don’t take survivor’s benefits into account when claiming benefits, according to a recent study, meaning that many widows will needlessly experience a significant drop in income.
Because women typically live longer than men and men are often the higher earners, most married women will be widowed and will have their income drop below what they need to maintain their accustomed standard of living. Spouses of a worker who has died are entitled to the worker's full retirement benefits once they reach their full retirement age. If the worker delayed retirement, the survivor's benefit will be higher. Husbands have the option of increasing their surviving spouse’s income by delaying Social Security benefits, but according to a study by the Center for Retirement Research at Boston College, most husbands do not take their wives’ future needs into consideration.
The study looked at whether greater awareness of Social Security Survivor’s benefits would affect claiming decisions. The study found that husbands tend to take more immediate concerns into consideration, such as their health and whether they have another pension, rather than their wives’ Survivor’s Benefits. Giving the husbands information about how they could improve their wives’ financial well-being by claiming benefits later did not change their claiming decisions.
The study concludes that in order to protect widows, the government should consider providing Survivor’s Benefits in a way that doesn’t tie the surviving spouse’s benefits to the decision of when to claim benefits. As things stands now, however, if you are the higher earner and are nearing retirement, you may want to take into account how your decision on when to claim benefits will affect your spouse if he or she survives you.
To read the study, click here.
For more information about Social Security benefits for spouses, click here.