Dear Dr. Don,
I am a 47-year-old widow who currently works. Assuming I will not remarry, can I receive Social Security at age 60 under my deceased spouse’s benefits and then later receive benefits at the full retirement age of 70 under my own Social Security?
— Laura Lifelong

Dear Laura,
Because you have not remarried, you would be eligible to receive Social Security survivor’s benefits as early as age 60 and could later collect your retirement benefits at your full retirement age — which is 67, not 70. Waiting until age 70 to start collecting your retirement benefits would, however, result in higher retirement benefits than what you would receive at age 67.

Here’s the information from the Social Security Web page “If You Are The Worker’s Widow Or Widower“:

You can receive widows/widowers benefits based on your age at any time between age 60 and your full retirement age as a survivor. However, if you start at an earlier age, your survivors benefits are reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before your full retirement age.

The Social Security Web page “Social Security benefits for the surviving spouse by year of birth” has a chart that shows how the survivors benefit is reduced. It also allows you to click through (using your birth year) to see how your Social Security survivors benefit is reduced by taking the benefit early.

If you will receive a pension for work not covered by Social Security, such as government employment, any Social Security benefits you may be eligible to receive on your spouse’s record may be reduced. This type of benefit reduction is called government pension offset, or GPO. Your annual Social Security Statement now explains the GPO if it’s relevant to your situation.

The government offers other important information relevant to your question in the “If You Are Eligible For Retirement Benefits On Your Own Record” page of the Social Security Web site:

If you are receiving widows, widowers or divorced widows or widowers benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow or widower.

In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.

You’re asking about what happens if you don’t remarry. But if you do remarry before reaching age 60, you cannot receive your deceased spouse’s benefits as long as that marriage remains in effect. However, if you remarry after reaching age 60, you will continue to qualify for benefits on your deceased spouse’s Social Security record.

I hope all of this helps you understand what will be available to you claiming survivors and then retirement benefits.

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