Social Security’s Family Benefits - Adviser Investments

Social Security’s Family Benefits

October 23, 2020

You don’t have to be retired to receive Social Security. You read that right. In certain cases qualified family members and dependents can receive benefits. Let’s look at some of those cases and consider how they may factor into your financial plan.

Benefits for Spouses

If you are (or were) married, you may be eligible to receive up to 50% of what your spouse receives in Social Security. This option does not reduce or change what your spouse receives. Instead, it can maximize your own benefit if your spouse was the primary breadwinner while you spent some or all of your working years raising children or otherwise outside the workforce. Depending on your work history, applying for spousal benefits may make more financial sense than filing for Social Security individually.

Spousal benefits start upon your spouse’s full retirement age (FRA)—66 or 67 depending on their year of birth. As with regular benefits, spousal benefits will be reduced by 8% each year if you file early. However, unlike traditional benefits, the spousal version will never grow beyond 50% of the primary breadwinner’s FRA payment, even if you wait until age 70 to file.

Benefits for Children

If you become eligible for Social Security benefits while you still have minor children, they may be entitled to receive benefits of their own when you file. To receive these benefits, the child must have a parent who’s disabled or retired and entitled to Social Security; or a parent who died after having worked long enough in a job where they paid Social Security taxes. In addition, the child must be either:

  • Under age 18
  • Under age 19 and a full-time elementary or high school student
  • Age 18 or older and have a disability that began before age 22

These are potentially significant benefits. We advise you to consider taking full advantage of them if your children are eligible.

Benefits for Survivors

If your spouse passes away you may be entitled to receive their Social Security benefit upon full retirement age, assuming the benefit exceeds what you would claim based on your own work history. A widow or widower is eligible for survivor benefits as long as the couple was married for at least nine months at the time of their spouse’s death. If the surviving spouse is already receiving the spousal benefits mentioned above, they will automatically switch to survivor benefits once the Social Security Administration is notified of the death.

One important note: If the partner passes away and the widow or widower remarries before age 60, they are not eligible to receive survivor benefits based on their first spouse’s income.

Social Security eligibility varies based on your circumstance. If you have questions about your specific situation, please contact us to receive personalized advice. We’re happy to help. Or for more about Social Security, please read our special report, Social Security’s Role in Your Retirement, or listen to our “When Should You File for Social Security?” podcast.


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