Claiming Social Security can be quite confusing, and determining the strategy that will maximize your lifetime benefits can be complicated. If you are or have ever been married, it may seem even more so.

Retirement benefits and survivor benefits (available to widows and widowers) can be thought of as two different buckets of money.

If you’re entitled to your own retirement benefit, and you’re also a surviving spouse or surviving ex-spouse, you can collect one form of benefit first, and then switch to the other benefit later if it will result in a larger payment.

Survivor benefits are available to you as early as age 60, but are reduced and subject to earnings restriction if you claim them before your Full Retirement Age. A survivor benefit is worth the maximum amount – up to 100% of what your deceased spouse or deceased ex-spouse collected or was entitled to collect at the time of their death – if you collect at Full Retirement Age. But unlike retirement benefits, survivor benefits don’t increase if you wait to collect them beyond your Full Retirement Age – there is no delayed credit.

If you’re a surviving spouse or a surviving ex-spouse and have a large Social Security retirement benefit of your own, it may make sense to first claim a survivor benefit, and then switch to your maximum retirement benefit at age 70.

But if your largest benefit will be your survivor payment, you may want to claim an early, reduced retirement benefit first, and then switch to your maximum survivor benefits at Full Retirement Age.

You may wish to consult with your financial advisor regarding strategies to maximize your Social Security benefits.

Content courtesy of Mary Beth Franklin and Investment News

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