By John Benedict
After a spouse dies, a range of emotional and physical effects may hit you, leaving you reeling—unsure of what comes next. You might find it hard to make decisions, especially financial ones that could impact your present and future.
Within a relatively short period, you’ll need to decide what to do about Social Security benefits for you and those of the spouse who died. Since the time after your partner dies is so stressful and upsetting, this choice is better made well in advance of the unfortunate event.
I recommend you talk to a financial advisor or the Social Security Administration now so you and your spouse can determine how either of you will handle Social Security survivor benefits later. To help prepare you, let’s take a look at Social Security benefits for a surviving spouse.
Eligibility for Survivor Benefits
Monthly payments of Social Security survivor benefits are available to you as a surviving spouse of a worker eligible to receive Social Security if you:
- Had been married for at least nine months
- Are at least 60 years old (at least 50 if you are disabled)
- Are younger than 60 years and caring for the deceased’s children under 16 years of age
- Are not entitled to an equal or higher amount of Social Security benefits for your work
Also, the deceased spouse must have earned the required credits to receive Social Security benefits. These credits increase with age and hit a limit of 40 (the equivalent of 10 years of work) for your lifetime.
Applying for Social Security Benefits
When a spouse dies, you must notify the federal Social Security Administration as soon as possible. However, you cannot report the death—or apply for benefits—online. It must be done by phone, through the mail, or in person.
Most often, the funeral home handling your deceased spouse will report the death to the Social Security Administration. You can simply give the funeral home your spouse’s Social Security number.
If you are receiving no Social Security benefits, the Social Security Administration suggests you apply as soon as possible after a spouse’s death. In some circumstances, Social Security benefits might not be retroactive.
However, applying for survivor benefits does not mean you need to begin receiving them right away. This is where the planning you and your spouse do before either of you dies is most important for preserving the financial well-being of the spouse that is left behind.
You don’t need to apply if you already are receiving Social Security benefits on the work record of your spouse or your parents. The Social Security Administration will automatically switch you to survivor benefits.
But you do have to apply if you’re receiving retirement or disability benefits on your work record. The Social Security Administration will check whether you can get a higher Social Security benefit as a survivor.
Documents to Prepare
The list of documents the Social Security Administration may ask you to supply when applying for Social Security benefits is long. It includes:
- Proof of your spouse’s death (from the funeral home or a death certificate)
- Your birth certificate or other proof of birth (original)
- Proof you are a U.S. citizen or lawful alien if not born in the U.S.
- W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns for your spouse (photocopy okay)
- Marriage certificate
- Military discharge papers if you had been in the armed services
- Two forms for disability benefits (SSA-3368 and SSA-827) describing your condition and releasing the information to the Social Security Administration
The list of questions you’ll need to answer is even longer. Again, the Social Security Administration suggests applying as soon as possible, even if you do not have all the documents.
As with any kind of estate planning, many couples don’t want to talk about the possible death of their spouse. However, having a plan in place allows you to gather the required documents and answers so you have them when you need them.
Get Help Now
If you’re married, you want to know your spouse will be okay financially if you pass away. J2 Capital Management can help you prepare for that eventuality and other estate planning. Schedule a meeting online or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or 248-641-4444.
About John Benedict
John Benedict is CEO, investment advisor representative, and portfolio manager at J2 Capital Management, a boutique financial advisory firm specializing in in-house custom financial planning, tax, estate, and investment management. With over 20 years of experience, John is passionate about helping clients navigate uncertain markets, reduce risk, and plan for a sound future. John combined his talents and passion for statistics and technical analysis to create J2’s tactical strategies, managing them since the beginning of the organization. He is known for being a visionary and continually looking for ways to improve J2’s services and strategies to better serve his clients. John graduated from Central Michigan University with a degree in business administration and finance, and his thoughts on markets and technical analysis have appeared in The Wall Street Journal and Investment News and on Moneyshow.com. He was also a contributor to the book The StockTwits Edge: 40 Actionable Trade Set-Ups from Real Market Pros.
When he’s not working, you can find John boating or participating in water sports and spending time with his wife, Janine, and his three children, Jack, Alexis, and Saraphina. To learn more about John, connect with him on LinkedIn. You can also register for his latest webinar on What Makes J2 Capital Management Different From Other Financial Advisors.