Dear Concerned: The Social Security employee you spoke with might have misunderstood your question. It sounds like the answer you were given pertained to the benefit your wife is entitled to as your spouse while you are living, which is based upon your “primary insurance amount”, or “PIA” (your PIA is the amount you were due at your full retirement age, or “FRA”).
When you claim your increased benefit at age 70 your wife can apply for her spousal benefit which will be based on your FRA benefit amount (not the increased amount you’ll get by waiting until age 70 to claim). She gets that spousal benefit if it is more than she is receiving on her own work record, which from what you’ve told me it will be. What actually happens is that she will continue to get her own benefit and she will also get a supplemental amount to make her total Social Security benefit equal to what she is entitled to as your spouse. That amount will be a bit less than half of your FRA benefit because she took her own benefit at age 62 (claiming Social Security early doesn’t only affect one’s own benefit, it affects their spousal benefit also). The spousal benefit your wife gets when you claim at age 70 will continue for as long as you are living.
But the Social Security benefit rules are different for your wife as your widow and your survivor. If you predecease your wife, her spousal benefit from your work record, as described above, will discontinue and she will be switched to her survivor’s benefit. That survivor’s benefit will be 100% of the benefit amount you were receiving at your death, instead of the lower amount she was receiving as your spouse when you were living. So, your original assumption is correct – as your widow your wife will get 100% of the increased benefit you were receiving when you pass. The Social Security employee was incorrect by telling you that, if you pass, your wife will only get what you were due at your full retirement age; instead she’ll get the full amount of your current Social Security benefit (your full age 70 benefit, plus any COLA adjustments made after your claim).
This article is intended for information purposes only and does not represent legal or financial guidance. It presents the opinions and interpretations of the AMAC Foundation’s staff, trained and accredited by the National Social Security Association (NSSA). NSSA and the AMAC Foundation and its staff are not affiliated with or endorsed by the Social Security Administration or any other governmental entity. To submit a question, visit amacfoundation.org or email [email protected]