Social Security Is STILL Shortchanging Widows (2018)

We review the specific document from the Social Security Administration that discusses Survivor benefits. Below we’re going to post verbatim highlights from the document…

You definitely want to read this yourself. There is A LOT going on here. So think this through before doing anything rash. It’s very important:

How To Apply For Social Security Survivor Benefits

“You cannot report a death or apply for survivors benefits online. We should be notified as soon as possible when a person dies.

In most cases, the funeral home will report the person’s death to us. You should give the funeral home the deceased person’s Social Security number if you want them to make the report.

If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you must return the benefit received for the month of death and any later months.

Who Receives Survivor Benefits?

Certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly benefits, including:

A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled);
A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances;
A widow or widower at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving benefits on their record;
An unmarried child of the deceased who is:
Younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school); or
Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

Widow(er) Of Covered Worker

If you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can:

receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
If you qualify for retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62.

What If You Remarry?

If you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), your remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits.

A few other situations:
If you already receive benefits as a spouse, your benefit will automatically convert to survivors benefits after we receive the report of death.
If you are also eligible for retirement benefits (but haven’t applied yet), you have an additional option. You can apply for retirement or survivors benefits now and switch to the other (higher) benefit at a later date.
For those already receiving retirement benefits, you can only apply for benefits as a widow or widower if the retirement benefit you receive is less than the benefits you would receive as a survivor.
If you became entitled to retirement benefits less than 12 months ago, you may be able to withdraw your retirement application and apply for survivors benefits only. If you do that, you can reapply for the retirement benefits at a later date when they will be higher.

Surviving Divorced Spouse

If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies, you could get benefits the same as a widow or widower, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more.

Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse won’t affect the benefit amount for other survivors getting benefits on the worker’s record.

If you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits.

Switch To Your Own Benefit?

If you receive benefits as a widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse, 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, widower, or surviving divorced spouse.
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.”…

In 2009, senior officials at the Social Security Administration were made aware of grossly underpaying widows who were entitled to much larger benefits.

They did nothing.

So, the “whistleblower”, for lack of a better term, contacted the one person with a large enough megaphone and deep understanding of Social Security to tell him about this absolute disgrace, Larry Kotlikoff.

In 2015, Larry wrote a scorching article for PBS about this issue.

The Social Security Administration did nothing.

But the Social Security Administration Office of the Inspector General (OIG) somehow was made privy to this issue and began an investigation.

In February 2018, the report was released.  And this is what they concluded:

“…we estimate SSA underpaid about $131.8 million
to 9,224 beneficiaries who were age 70 and older. In addition, we
estimate SSA will underpay an additional 1,899 beneficiaries who
were under age 70 about $9.8 million, annually, beginning in the
year they attain age 70.
We did not find any evidence SSA had informed claimants of the
option to delay their retirement application when they applied for
benefits, as required. We also found that SSA did not have systems
controls in place to alert its employees when they should inform
widow(er)s of their option to delay their applications for retirement benefits.”

In March 2018, Larry wrote a follow up article about the OIG report. (Links can be found for all sources below.)

The Social Security Administration has been made aware of its negligence when dealing with Widows for nearly a decade.

Yet nothing has been done. Maybe now something will change? I am not holding my breath.

But remember folks, this is not the SSA’s money. This is money that should have gone to some of the most vulnerable Americans, Widows and Widowers.

Many widows are living close to being paupers. Yet could they have been given more money with just some correct planning? Yup. But they relied on their government to steer them right.

And once again, their government let them down. This is disgusting. What if that were YOUR WIFE! Your MOM! Your sister!


Yet, what is Social Security going to do about it? Well back in 2015 they said:

I.e., “too bad so sad”.

Thankfully, Larry Kotlikoff is on the case. Unfortunately, he is a one-man Army it seems.

Fighting the good fight for ALL beneficiaries to get what is their legal rights. Yeah, Larry understands Social Security is one of the big three, the unfunded liabilities that at some point will bankrupt this country.

But a person still has a legal right to get what they are legally entitled to regardless of the solvency of the system.

Worried about the system’s long term solvency? Fine. Change the law. But you can’t change the rules after the game has been played for these widows. And essentially that is what is going on here.

So, when it comes to Social Security, my friends, PLEASE for the love of all that is good, understand what the rules are and how those rules affect you. Please.

Do not rely on the good folks at the SSA. They can not plan for you. They can not tell you what your best options are. They can only tell you what your plan of action is maximize benefits today. That’s it.

And unfortunately because of that, they’ve cost millions upon millions of dollars to beneficiaries.

It’s wrong on so many levels.

Larry’s 2015 article.

Larry’s 2018 article.

OIG Report 2018.

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