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Social Security Continues to Underpay Surviving Spouses

Published on: Jul 28 2020

You simply can’t rely on the Social Security Administration (SSA) to help determine the right benefits for you, especially if you’re a widow or widower.What is even worse is that the SSA has been told about the problem for years and apparently has not been able to correct it. Here is the background.

When a spouse passes away, the surviving spouse generally has two Social Security benefit options. The surviving spouse can choose to receive his or her retirement benefits or the survivor benefits based on the deceased spouse’s work record. Generally, the survivor benefits are the same amount the deceased spouse was receiving or would have been entitled to at the time of death.

What’s more, the surviving spouse can choose to receive one type of benefit now and switch to the other in the future. This can be beneficial when one of the benefits will increase if the claim is delayed for a few years.When an individual files for or is receiving Social Security benefits, the SSA is supposed to investigate all the types of benefits to which the individual is en-titled or potentially entitled. Then, the beneficiary is supposed to be told when higher benefits might be available.

In 2018, I wrote about a report issued by the Office of the Inspector General of the SSA (IG). The report found that SSA consistently failed to inform a high percentage of widows and widowers that they might be entitled to a higher benefit than the one they were receiving.

The IG recently examined the same issue and found SSA still was failing. The recent study found that almost half of the surviving spouses weren’t informed that they were eligible for higher benefits after their spouses passed away. The IG estimated that more than 12,000 beneficiaries would be underpaid cumulatively more than $530 million in lifetime benefits.

As I said, this isn’t the first time the IG identified that SSA was coming up short in this area.

The good news is the error rate is down from 82% in 2018 to a little less than half now.

The bottom line is you should not depend on the SSA to give you good ad-vice about how to maximize your Social Security benefits.Survivor’s benefits, in particular, are critical, because the surviving spouse must maintain the household on one Social Security benefit instead of two.

That’s why I discussed survivor’s bene-fits and strategies for maximizing them in the December 2019 issue.


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