facebook twitter instagram linkedin google youtube vimeo tumblr yelp rss email podcast phone blog search brokercheck brokercheck Play Pause
Understanding Social Security Spousal Benefits and Survivor Benefits Thumbnail

Understanding Social Security Spousal Benefits and Survivor Benefits

Social Security benefits can provide a nice income stream during retirement or in the event of a spouse's death. There are over 1800 rules to the system and understanding how benefits actually work can go a long way in helping you maximize your Social Security benefits. Today, we are going to explore two facets of the Social Security program: spousal benefits and survivor benefits. This will help you to optimize your Social Security strategy.

Social Security Spousal Benefits 

Spousal benefits are Social Security benefits that are based on your spouse’s work record instead of your own. Your Social Security retirement benefit is typically based on your 35 highest-earning years of work. But, if your spouse earned significantly more or your work history is limited, you may get more money from spousal benefits.  Here are key points to understand about spousal benefits: 


To be eligible for spousal benefits if you are currently married all three of the following must apply: 

  • You’ve been married for at least a year 
  • You are at least 62, or you’re caring for your spouse's disabled child who is younger than 16 
  • Your spouse currently receives retirement benefits 

If you are at least 62 and your spouse hasn’t started receiving benefits yet, you can take your own retirement benefit and then claim their higher benefit once they file. This is a common Social Security planning strategy for couples. 

To be eligible for spousal benefits if you are divorced the following criteria needs to be met: 

  • You were married to that person for at least 10 years before the date of the divorce became final 
  • Your ex spouse needs to be eligible to claim a Social Security benefit 

Benefit Amount:  

The amount of your spousal benefit is typically up to 50% of your spouse's full retirement benefit amount, although it can be less if you claim your spousal benefit before full retirement age. This percentage is designed to provide a fair and reasonable level of support if you have not have earned as much income during your working years. However, the actual amount received may vary based on factors such as the age at which you claim the benefit. It's important to note that spousal benefits do not reduce your spouse's own retirement benefit amount. 

Spousal benefits are based on your spouses primary insurance amount, which is the amount they are eligible to receive at full retirement age (FRA). Depending on how old you are when you start Social Security, you can receive 32.5% to 50% of your spouses benefit. 

If you wait until your full retirement age- which is 67 if you were born in 1960 or later- you’ll qualify for the 50% maximum. But if you claim as soon as you’re eligible at 62, you’d receive 32.5% of their full benefit. 

Claiming Strategies: You may want to explore various claiming strategies to maximize your spousal benefits, such as coordinating the timing of claiming retirement benefits to optimize the overall benefit amount for both you and your spouse. For example, one of you may choose to delay claiming your retirement benefit while the other spouse chooses to take theirs early and then switch over to a spousal benefit later. These strategies can help couples make the most of their Social Security benefits and ensure a more secure financial future. 

Social Security Survivor Benefits 

Survivor benefits are intended to provide you with financial support if your spouse dies. The survivor benefits can also assist children of a deceased worker who was eligible for Social Security. These benefits serve as a lifeline if you lose a loved one and are facing the challenges of rebuilding your life. Here's an overview of survivor benefits

Eligibility: If your spouse dies you are eligible for survivor benefits if you were married for at least nine months.

Benefit Amount: If your spouse dies before you and their benefit is larger than yours, you will receive their benefit in lieu of your own. You may begin claiming a survivor benefit as early as age 60, but it will be reduced a fraction of a percent for each month before your full retirement age. 

Essentially, you are entitled to receive up to 100% of your deceased spouses benefit amount, depending on their age and other factors. This level of support is designed to provide a measure of financial stability during a difficult time. 

In the case your spouse dies, your household income will be reduced no matter what. This highlights the importance of delaying the larger of the two benefits as long as possible. By doing so, whoever lives the longest will receive the largest possible benefit.

Impact of Remarriage: Remarriage can impact your eligibility for survivor benefits. If you remarry before reaching age 60 (or age 50 if disabled), you are not eligible for survivor benefits based on your former spouse's earnings record.  

Benefits for Children: Survivor benefits also extend to dependent children of your deceased spouse, providing valuable financial support to help meet their needs. This ensures that your children are not left without a safety net and have access to the resources necessary for their well-being. The amount of benefit received by children is based on the deceased worker's earnings and is designed to provide a fair and reasonable level of support. 


Social Security spousal benefits and survivor benefits serve as crucial components of the Social Security program, offering vital financial support to spouses and survivors. Understanding the eligibility criteria, benefit amounts, and potential strategies for maximizing these benefits is essential for you to make informed decisions regarding your Social Security benefits.

At Seaside Wealth Management, our team is committed to providing comprehensive financial planning tailored to your individual needs. We understand that Social Security benefits play a crucial role in retirement planning, and our expertise extends to ensuring that your claiming strategies align seamlessly with your overarching financial goals. Whether it involves optimizing benefits timing, maximizing spousal benefits, or navigating survivor benefits, we are here to guide you through the complexities of the Social Security system. Social Security spousal benefits and survivor benefits serve as crucial components of the Social Security program, offering vital financial support to spouses and survivors. 

This commentary reflects the personal opinions, viewpoints and analyses of the Seaside Wealth Management, Inc. employees providing such comments, and should not be regarded as a description of advisory services provided by Seaside Wealth Management, Inc. or performance returns of any Seaside Wealth Management, Inc. client. The views reflected in the commentary are subject to change at any time without notice. Nothing in this commentary constitutes investment advice, performance data or any recommendation that any particular security, portfolio of securities, transaction or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. Any mention of a particular security and related performance data is not a recommendation to buy or sell that security. Seaside Wealth Management, Inc. manages its clients’ accounts using a variety of investment techniques and strategies, which are not necessarily discussed in the commentary. Investments in securities involve the risk of loss. Past performance is no guarantee of future results.