elder law

When a spouse dies, their Social Security benefits may become available to their current – or former – marital partner, Dana Anspack of thebalance.com explains, adding that spousal benefits can be available to:

  • widowed spouses
  • ex-spouses
  • current spouses

How does the system work? Spouses can claim Social Security benefits based either on their own earnings records, or choose a spousal benefit of 50% of the amount of the deceased or former spouse’s benefit (as calculated at their full retirement age). What happens when there have been multiple marriages and divorces? One is allowed to choose whichever spousal benefit is highest.

Understanding the Social Security benefit system and making the best choices for both retirement and estate planning isn’t the easiest of tasks, as Ken Moraif, CFP® CEO of Retirement Planners of America points out.

At Geyer Law, we know. In our elder law practice we find that many of our clients understand that Social Security benefits are a key component of their retirement planning. Often, however, they fail to appreciate how those benefits factor into a comprehensive estate plan.

What many people do not know, for example, is that, while typical recipients of survivor benefits are spouses, they may also be children of individuals who, at the time of their death, were eligible for – or who were already receiving – benefits. What’s more, parents aged 62 or older who were financially dependent on a son or daughter who has now died can be eligible for Social Security benefits.

“Estate plans all include lots of uncertainty and risk,” Martin Shenkman writes in Forbes. With certain estate planning techniques being dependent on interest rates, time of death, and changes in the law, Shenkman points out, annual reviews of estate plans are essential.

Planning by examining all the options for Social Security makes for smart retirement planning, but also for smarter estate planning.

– by Cara M. Chittenden, Associate Attorney at Rebecca W. Geyer & Associates