Many not aware of Social Security survivor benefits

As readers of my column know, Social Security regulations are complex, and unfortunately some Social Security Administration representatives and many financial planners are not aware of some important benefits. I have received many inquiries regarding survivor benefits from individuals who do not understand options that are available.

One benefit scenario many are unaware of is when a worker dies relatively young. Even if a deceased worker has not yet acquired 40 credits, his or her survivors may still be eligible for significant benefits. In 2017, a worker receives one Social Security credit for each $1,300 of earnings, up to a maximum of four credits per year. In other words, an individual who earns $5,200 or more in 2017 receives the maximum four credits.

A worker does not need to live until full retirement age for his or her survivors to be eligible for a benefit. For example, if a worker died at 28 or younger, only six credits are needed for the widow(er) to receive maximum survivor benefits. The date of birth of the widow(er) determines when he or she is eligible for full benefits. For example, a widow born by 1939 would be eligible for full benefits. A widow(er) born after 1962 would be eligible for full benefits at 67. (The full retirement age, or FRA, for widow(er)s is slightly different than the FRA for workers and their spouses.)

Normally, you must be at least age 60 to be eligible for widow(er) or surviving divorced spouse benefits. However, if you are taking care of the decedent's child, you may qualify for benefits at any age. The child must be under age 16, or disabled, and must be drawing Social Security payments on the worker's record. A surviving divorced spouse must be unmarried to be paid as the child's parent. If you meet these conditions, you are entitled to receive 75 percent of the worker's full benefit amount. The child, under the age of 16, is entitled to 75 percent of the worker's full benefit amount.

It is crucial to understand the remarriage rules for widow(er)s. Widow(er)s lose survivor payments if they remarry before age 60. For marriage after 60, benefits continue.

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