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Dear Senior Living Adviser,
I am 61 years old. I have been receiving Social Security disability for 3 years. I had worked for 39 years. I had been married 21 years when my husband died 15 years ago. But, of course, neither of us was retirement age then.

Since I will be turning 62, will I be able to draw my Social Security disability and my deceased husband’s Social Security retirement? I have been told 2 totally different answers. Could you please explain the correct answer?
— Confused Corrine

Dear Corrine,
You don’t start collecting 2 checks at age 62. Since I don’t often write on disability topics, I asked Social Security Solutions to help with the reply to your question. Robin Brewton, the chief operating officer, provided this advice:

“Unfortunately, Corrine will not collect both her disability benefit and the widow’s benefit based on her deceased husband’s earnings record. She will continue to collect her disability benefit, and if the widow’s benefit is higher than her own at the time of the claim, she will be paid the “excess” amount on top of her own benefit. However, Corrine should carefully analyze how and when she decides to collect the widow’s benefit.

“Corrine’s disability benefit will convert automatically to a retirement benefit when she reaches her full retirement age of 66 and 2 months. But she is eligible to switch to the widow’s benefit at any time after age 50 because she is disabled. (If she were not disabled, she would have to wait until age 60 to switch.)

Claiming benefits gets complicated

“The widow’s benefit will be reduced if she claims it at any time before her full retirement age. So, let’s assume Corrine’s deceased husband’s full retirement benefit amount is $2,000. Since he died having never claimed benefits, Corrine’s widow’s benefit is based on her husband’s full retirement benefit amount. The reduction in benefits for claiming before her full retirement age would be 0.396% per month. Again, assuming his full retirement benefit is $2,000, she would receive the amounts below based on the age she claimed the widow’s benefit:

How waiting increases benefits
Claim at age Approximate reduction percentage Approximate benefits received
61 (62 months before FRA) 24.55% $1,509.00
62 19.80% $1,604.00
63 15.05% $1,699.00
64 10.3% $1,794.00
65 5.54% $1,889.20
66 and 2 months (full retirement age) 0% $2,000.00

“So, Corrine’s decision about claiming the widow’s benefit should center on maximizing her monthly payment. Unless she already is receiving more than $2,000 per month (in this example only), she would not receive a higher benefit. But, if she is receiving, say, $1,700 per month now, waiting as close as possible to full retirement age before claiming the widow’s benefit would give her the maximum amount.

“Further, there is no reason to wait beyond her full retirement age to claim the widow’s benefit because it does not earn delayed retirement credits.”

I’ll remind you that Brewton’s example doesn’t match your exact situation, but instead illustrates how the reduction percentage works. If you’re still struggling with the particulars of your situation, I suggest working with a private Social Security consulting firm to run the numbers for you, since you’ve gotten 2 different answers in the past.

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