Widow(er)s and other survivors

The Scenario:

Let’s start out with an easy scenario, which in reality most often occurs.

  • John: age 60, Full Retirement Age (FRA) 66, life expectancy 70
  • Jane: age 58, FRA 66, life expectancy 90
Strategy 1:

ohm and Jane decide to both claim their benefits at age 62.
John and Jane would then be entitled to collect the following benefits:

Widow or Survivor Chart 1

Jane will be receiving $19,991 annually and this appears at first blush to be a good decision, but let’s take a closer look at this decisions and see the impact a more thoughtful and strategic approach can make.

Strategy 2:

In this case, there are 372,840 different scenarios to be examined to determine an optimal approach that produces the highest value for John and Jane’s lifetime benefits given their situation and life expectancies.

  • John should take spousal benefits in July of 2018, at age 66.
  • John should take retirement benefits in January of 2022, at age 70.
  • Jane should take retirement benefits in July of 2018, at age 64.
  • Jane should take spousal benefits in January of 2022, at age 6.

John and Jane’s total benefits are increased by more than 45% over their lifetime:

Widow or Survivor Chart 2

  • Lifetime benefits using selected dates: $628,400.
  • Lifetime benefits using maximized dates: $911,721.

Using maximized strategy 2, lifetime benefits increase by $283,321.


NOTE: All amounts are in today’s dollars. Lifetime benefits are calculated as the present value of all future benefits assuming you live through your maximum age of life. Discounting is non-actuarial and is based on the real rate of return implied by your assumed nominal rate of return and inflation rate.


As you might guess, these and other scenarios play out differently depending on the differences between the higher and lower Primary Insurance Amounts (PIA)s, and the age of the surviving spouse. There are no pat answers. There is one thing I can safely say: the consequences of making an incorrect decision can be even more than in the example above.


As a practical matter, when a spouse dies, the survivor often has difficulty with simple, daily tasks for some period of time and in many cases is certainly not ready to begin thinking about the complicated issues surrounding Social Security. When a loved one loses a life-partner, I’m ready to help you and your loved one develop a plan that will work for them and provide the best and highest level of benefits we can.


If you haven’t already clicked on “Schedule an Appointment,” perhaps you’d like to take a moment and do it now.