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Will My Wife Benefit If I Wait Until 70 to Take My Social Security?

Rules differ for spouses and survivors

En español | Q. I waited until I was 70 years old to take my Social Security payments because I was told that waiting would help increase the benefit that would go to my wife if I should die. Is that still true?

A. Yes, it's true. A person who does not file for retirement benefits and continues to work past full retirement age will earn delayed retirement credits (DRCs). These credits increase both the retirement payment eventually paid to the worker and the survivor benefit paid to the deceased worker's widow or widower.

However, delayed retirement credits will not be used to increase the benefit paid to the spouse while the worker is alive.

For example, let's say John retires at age 70 and is entitled to a full Social Security benefit of $1,000 with $320 extra based on DRCs. He will receive a total of $1,320 a month.

When John's spouse files for benefits, Social Security will use John's full-retirement-age benefit of $1,000 to figure the spousal benefit (up to 50 percent of $1,000, depending on her age).

However, if John dies, Social Security will use his $1,320 payment to figure her widow's benefits. If she is at full retirement age, she will receive the full $1,320. If she is under full retirement age, she will receive somewhat less.

Meanwhile, here's a bit of advice from Social Security: If you receive widow's or widower's benefits and you qualify for a retirement benefit based on your own work record that's more than your survivor benefit, you can switch to your own benefit as early as age 62.

For more information, check out the Social Security guide online.

Q. Can widows who remarry still collect a deceased spouse's Social Security?

A. It depends. Generally, you cannot receive survivor benefits if you remarry before age 60 (50 if disabled) unless the latter marriage ends — whether by death, divorce or annulment.

If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on your former spouse's record. When you reach age 62 or older, you may claim retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox?

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