The surviving spouse benefit is a critical part of retirement planning.
At some point in time, nearly every married couple will have to deal with the loss of their spouse and the financial ramifications that go with it. When both a husband and wife are eligible for a Social Security benefit, and one spouse predeceases the other, the surviving spouse is entitled to the higher of the two Social Security benefits. Assuming the surviving spouse has reached full retirement age, they are eligible for 100% of the benefit that is higher.
On a side note, this speaks to the critical importance of the primary income earner delaying their Social Security benefit in order to ensure a sufficiently high surviving spouse benefit. As many know, a surviving spouse may live many years beyond the death of the first and having a sufficient amount of guaranteed, inflation-adjusted income is an important part of a retirement plan.
Questions arise about the surviving spouse benefit when a subsequent remarriage occurs with the surviving spouse. To understand the options that a surviving spouse has after remarriage, one must understand the difference between remarriage before the age of 60 and remarriage after the age of 60.
If the surviving spouse subsequently remarries after the age of 60, their surviving spouse Social Security benefit remains intact as an option to choose from for maximizing Social Security. In essence the surviving spouse would be able to potentially choose from three options to coordinate. The first is their surviving spouse Social Security benefit, the second is their own Social Security benefit (if they qualify), and the last is their spousal benefit on their new marriage (after 12 months of marriage).
Depending on the amount of each of the benefits available, different strategies can be developed to maximize Social Security for a surviving spouse who remarries after the age of 60.
If a surviving spouse subsequently remarries before the age of 60, the surviving spouse Social Security benefit option is no longer available to them. Instead they would be limited to their own Social Security benefit or a spousal benefit on their new spouse (after they have been married for 12 months).
If you have any questions about maximizing Social Security through a surviving spouse option, please contact me.