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Understanding The Social Security Spousal Survivor Benefit

Feb. 11, 2019 3:47 PM ET23 Comments
Bruce Miller profile picture
Bruce Miller


  • Social Security benefits require making choices.
  • Social Security provides benefits to retiree families during life and death.
  • The Survivorship Benefit is probably the least well understood Social Security benefit.

Knowing what the Social Security benefits will be for a married couple, in life as well as in death, are important in financial planning for the household. One of the least well understood benefits is for the surviving spouse. Survivorship benefits are also available for dependent children under age 18 (19 if still in high school), dependent parents and the surviving spouse of any age who is the parent of a child under age 16. However, this article will only consider a married couple. So what are the rules and options? First, let me define some key terms that may not be familiar to all.

Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA. This is the computed monthly benefit one receives if they begin receiving their benefit the month they attain their Full Retirement Age (FRA). The amount is based on their own work history. Beginning their SS benefit prior to FRA will reduce their benefit while waiting past ones FRA will increase their benefit above their PIA.

Full Retirement Age or FRA. There are actually two FRAs: one for the Worker and another for the Survivor. The worker’s FRA is the age one will receive their PIA as their benefit. The Survivor FRA is the age they will receive 100% of the deceased spouse benefit. These two FRAs can be slightly different based on year of birth. Below is a table comparing the two

Delayed Retirement Credits or DRCs. If the worker delays beginning Social Security benefits past their FRA, the PIA will increase at the rate of 8% per year or .67% per month. DRCs continue after the FRA until one reaches age 70 and then they stop. Note that DRC’s are for the calculation of benefits while living. Survivor benefits do not accrue DRCs.

Earnings Limit Penalty. For those who

This article was written by

Bruce Miller profile picture
Retired, late 50'sHold CFP designation. Passed CFP exam Nov 2000Author of "IRA: A Quck Reference Guide". Available on Amazon as an e-book.Author of "Retirement Investing for INCOME ONLY: How to invest for relaible income in Retirement ONLY from Dividends"

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