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Losing a loved one is never easy. The survivor benefits that Social Security can provide may help you return to a sense of security during this difficult time.

If your spouse worked and paid into the Social Security system before they died, you will likely be entitled to some level of survivor benefits. The amount you receive will depend on your age when you claim. You can start receiving payments as early as age 60 (or age 50 if you have a disability), but your payments will be lower than if you wait until your full retirement age. At your full retirement age, you will be entitled to 100% of the survivor benefit.

If you’re eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on your own earnings record and you’re already receiving your payments, you can choose to take the higher of the two benefits – either yours or the survivor benefit.

But if you haven’t started collecting on your own record here’s a helpful strategy to consider. You may be able to maximize your total benefit by collecting the survivor benefits now and deferring your own Social Security payments until you reach age 70. This strategy allows your own benefits to grow at a simple rate of 8% per year, every year between your full retirement age and age 70.

It’s also important to know that if you remarry before age 60, you will lose eligibility for the survivor benefit. There are some exceptions, however – so if you find yourself in the situation of remarrying, it’s a good idea to connect with the Social Security Administration to understand your options before you make that commitment. And here’s another little-known fact. Even if you were divorced from the deceased, you may still be eligible for survivor benefits based on their earnings record.

Your first step to resolving this question is to get on the phone with the Social Security Administration. They can explain your options. However, it can be confusing and disorienting to make that call alone, which is why I believe partnering with a financial professional who can help cut through the noise and be your advocate can be so beneficial.

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