Ask Larry: Do Social Security Survivor’s Benefits Include Past COLAs?

Today’s column addresses questions about whether previous cost of living allowances apply when a survivor’s benefit is claimed, whether a foreign pension will reduce a spousal benefit and what disability benefits might change at 62. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.


Will COLAs Since My Husband’s Death Apply To My Social Security Widow’s Benefit?

HI Larry, My husband was collecting his Social Security retirement benefit when he died in 2012. His monthly benefit at that time was about $2,425. If I begin receiving my widow’s benefit this year when I turn 64, will the COLA increases between then and now apply to my benefit, which I believe will be 82.5% of what he was getting? Thanks, Julia

Hi Julia, I’m sorry for your loss. Yes, the Social Security cost of living increases that occurred since your husband’s death would be added when calculating your survivor benefit rate. Your rate wouldn’t necessarily be just 82.5% of your husband’s primary insurance amount (PIA), though, unless he started drawing his benefits at age 62 or 63.

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Widows and widowers can be paid an unreduced rate of up to 100% of their deceased spouse’s full benefit rate unless the deceased spouse collected reduced Social Security retirement benefits prior to their death.

You may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to fully analyze the options available to you in order to determine your best strategy for maximizing your benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry


Will My Wife’s Spousal Benefits Be Reduced When She Starts Receiving Her UK State Pension?

Hi Larry, My wife and I are US citizens aged 68 and 67. We both worked in the UK for 30 years. I am receiving a UK state pension and a US Social Security pension, which is reduced by the WEP. My wife receives a US spousal pension as she did not have enough points to apply for a retirement benefit on her own record. Her spousal benefit was determined at the same time as my WEP reduced retirement benefit.

My wife is entitled to a UK state pension. When she claims that, will she need to notify the SSA and will it reduce her spousal benefit? Thanks, Tony

Hi Tony, Your wife’s spousal benefits won’t be reduced if she receives a UK pension, nor would there be any need for her to notify Social Security if she isn’t eligible for US Social Security retirement or disability benefits based on her own earnings history. Spousal and survivor benefits are not subject to reduction from the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).

There is a Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision that can cause a person’s spousal or survivor benefits to be reduced if they receive a government pension based on their earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes, but that only applies to pensions that are based on a person’s earnings from governmental agencies in the US. Best, Larry


What Do I Need To Do When I Turn 62?

Hi Larry, I turned 61in February I’m on Social Security disability now for past 4 years I was told by SSA that they will retire me out at 62. What is it I need to do now or wait for them to do? Thanks, Richard

Hi Richard, If you’re receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI) and if you have enough Social Security earnings credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits, then you’ll be required apply for reduced Social Security retirement benefits when you reach 62. If you’re eligible and you refuse to apply for Social Security retirement benefits, Social Security will stop paying your SSI benefits.

If you have sufficient credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits then Social Security should contact you to solicit an application for those benefits around the time you reach 62. You can either wait for them to get in touch with you, or you could contact them on your own.

On the other hand, if what you’re receiving is Social Security disability (SSDI) benefits, then nothing will change when you reach 62. You can simply continue receiving your unreduced SSDI benefits until you reach full retirement age (FRA), at which time your SSDI benefits will automatically convert to Social Security retirement benefits at the same monthly rate. Best, Larry


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