On This Episode
Today is part 5 of our social security series and we will focus on the survivor benefit option. We will talk about a few situations that can arise and share a couple of client stories that have revolved around this topic.
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Here is a transcript of today’s episode:
Speaker 1: Back here with us for another edition of Retirement Planning Redefined, the podcast with John and Nick from PFG Private Wealth. Gentlemen, how’s it going? Nick, how are you today, my friend?
Nick: Doing pretty well. How about yourself?
Speaker 1: I’m hanging in there. Not doing too bad. We are into December. Moving along nicely on this. John, how are you doing? You doing all right?
John: I’m doing good. I’m doing good. No complaints. It’s a getting a little cooler here in Florida, which is nice. It’s been been hot, so it’s nice to get a little a cool, no more humidity.
Speaker 1: Yeah. Yeah. Now, as planners, you guys plan a lot of things, but are you the same way when it comes to holiday shopping? Have you kind of gotten some of this knocked out? We’re at about the middle of the month here now in December. So you guys ready to roll for Christmas or are you last minute?
John: I’ll take that one first. No, I do a lot of Amazon shopping [crosstalk 00:00:49].
Speaker 1: Me and you both. But how about you, Nick?
Nick: Anything I can do to avoid going to a store, I do, so the majority of my shopping [crosstalk 00:00:59].
Speaker 1: I think so many of us are that way, right, which obviously we can see in the death of brick and mortar, for sure. But yeah, absolutely. I agree with you there. Well, hopefully, folks, you’re out there getting your shopping done. Maybe you’re checking out this podcast while you’re driving around doing some shopping or walking around in the malls or whatever the case might be. That is kind of the beauty of podcasting. It’s not like traditional radio obviously, so you have more options, and hopefully you’re subscribed to the podcast Retirement Planning Redefined. Do it at Apple, Google or Spotify, and a couple others as well, and you can find the links if you want, and podcast episodes on their website at PFGPrivateWealth.com. That’s PFGPrivateWealth.com.
Speaker 1: All right, part five. I think this is going to probably wrap it up, too, for our series on social security. We’re going to talk about survivor benefits. Guys, give us some things to think about here. Survivor benefits are available to children and surviving spouses, correct?
John: Yeah, so it is available to children and surviving spouses. For today’s session, we’re going to focus more on surviving spouses because that comes into play more when we’re doing retirement planning.
Speaker 1: Okay.
John: So we always like to actually joke around with the survivor benefit. Not many people are aware, but they get a nice $255 lump sum death benefit if the spouse were to pass away.
Nick: Obviously has not been adjusted for inflation.
Speaker 1: Yeah, no, that doesn’t cover much of anything, does it?
John: No, no it doesn’t. But they do get a monthly benefit as survivor and when it comes to planning, that does help out quite a bit when we’re talking about strategies and trying to figure out a plan for a survivor. Kind of some rules that go with that. A survivor can actually start drawing social security at age 60 versus 62, which is kind of the normal first spouse, which we discussed last week.
Nick: It is important to note that as a reminder, even though they’re eligible to draw at 60, there are still the income tests from the standpoint of reductions. So if that person is working, then it may not make a whole lot of sense to get that early.
John: Yeah. What Nick’s referencing, we talked about the earnings penalty if you start taking social security before your full retirement age. That does still apply age 60, so if you’re still working, most likely that will wipe out any social security benefit you’re going to get as a survivor.
John: Some other things to consider, and I’ll kind of give some examples of this. Survivor benefit is not available if someone remarries before age 60, okay, unless of course that marriage ends. So we’ve had situations where we were planning for clients and we were talking about doing some survivor strategies and they actually … Let’s just give an example. They were 57 and were considering getting married and actually deferred their marriage until age 61 to be safe, which I don’t think the spouse is too happy with us on that because it deferred the marriage, but it made sense because we actually get some pretty easy strategies, which we’ll talk about later, to maximize the social security.
Nick: For the widow to the eligible for those survivor benefits, they had to have been married for at least nine months. There’s a caveat to that where the death was an accident, that could come into play. So essentially, that’s pretty lenient, but it is important to understand the nine month rule as well.
John: Yeah. And we stress a lot on just understanding what your situation is. Just kind of give you an example of that, I had a client that thought she’s eligible for social security because she was married, but he passed away when they were within eight months of marriage. And she was shocked [inaudible 00:04:23] the whole time, let’s say the last seven years, she was planning on it and then didn’t qualify for it. So it was shocking, and unfortunately for her, she was hitting 62 so it made a big difference to her overall plan.
Speaker 1: Gotcha. Okay. So good information there. Surviving spouse’s benefit is based on what?
Nick: So essentially kind of the caveat to this is whether or not people have been collecting. So if both spouses are receiving their benefits and there is death, then the surviving spouse receives the higher of the two.
John: Not both.
Nick: Correct. Not both, which some people will be surprised about how that works. But it’s important to understand that they receive the higher of the two, not both. And one of the big factors that gets calculated into the firm calculation of the amount of money that the widow will receive takes into account when the deceased spouse originally claimed their benefit. And it gets a little bit confusing, quite frankly, for most people, but it factors in essentially whether or not they took it before or after their full retirement age. So John will walk us through an example on that. But it is important to understand how this works.
John: Yeah. Again, we like to do everything in the realm of planning. So this is where doing the social security maximization strategy is very important. Social security is a big part of someone’s retirement income. So you want to make sure that you’re making the best decisions available to you, because the last thing you is to look back 10 years ago, it’s like, “Oh, I wish I did this. I could have had X amount of dollars or really been enjoying my [inaudible 00:06:05] a little bit more.”
John: So just going to touch on an example of that. We’ll call them Jack and Jill. We talked about some survivor strategies last week, but let’s say Jack’s up for retirement benefits, 2,400. Doesn’t take it [inaudible 00:06:20] 70. Basically, Jill can jump on and actually take … Let’s increase it to 2,976 increases. That will be her new basically benefit for social security, so she gets a nice increase and that’s where we talked about really trying to protect the spouse and giving them more income for life. And if she tries to draw early, let’s say she takes it at 62, which anytime you draw early, you get reduction of benefit or a reduction based off of now the higher amount that he deferred, which is a nice little caveat. We have to really do some planning for a spouse.
Nick: And one of the things too from a comparison standpoint is when we discuss the spousal benefits and how the spousal benefits do not grow past full retirement age, the death benefits does, or the widow benefit, survivor benefit does grow past [inaudible 00:07:15] age, so another reason why that’s really a big factor.
John: Yeah. And one thing that we’ll always do, if we’re incorporating strategies, you always typically want to delay the higher benefit. So if you’re looking at an opportunity to take a widow’s benefit or my own, rule of thumb, and everyone’s different, but rule of thumb is defer the higher ones. I’ll give my family as an example. My father-in-law, his wife passed away young and basically age 60, he was able to actually draw her social security benefit at 60, which a reduced amount. Most of his income is from real estate and investment income, so an earnings penalty didn’t apply to him. So the plan is he’s taking the widow benefit at 60 and he’s deferring his, and then at full retirement age, he’s going to switch over to his and get his full retirement benefit. So from 60 to 66, he was actually able to get some type of benefit and then at 66, will jump to his own and he gets the full amount.
Speaker 1: Yeah. So there’s some good strategies, some good things to think about, good information here when we’re talking about these survivor benefits. So a couple of final key points or key takeaways, guys, just to think about?
John: Things to consider is a reminder that basically when the person passes away, their social security benefits stop. And if the surviving spouse is going to take one, they’ll take either their own or the deceased spouse, whatever one’s higher, just making sure that it’s important to plan and make sure the strategy is best for you based on your situation. Social security … This is everything, not just survivors … it’s very confusing, and there’s a lot of different things you can do, so if you’re working with an advisor, just make sure that they have the capabilities to stress test your decisions, to make sure you’re making the correct decision based on your situation and not your neighbors or as Nick likes to say, up north, his clients, they’ve talked to their plumber.
Nick: Yeah. Everybody likes to get an opinion from somebody else. We will talk about opinions. But so anyways, I think the biggest kind of overlying thing, and we talk about it a lot, but we can’t emphasize it enough, and even when we do overemphasize it, people still ask, but this is not a decision to be made in a vacuum. So many other factors tie into this decision.
Nick: And even when we plan … As an example, I was walking somebody through a plan this week, and they are three or four years out from retirement, and even though we have a strategy set up for social security in the plan on what we plan to do from a baseline standpoint, they asked and I really had to emphasize that realistically this decision doesn’t really get made until maybe three, six months before their retirement.
Nick: So we may plan for a certain strategy for four or five years, but the importance of planning and updating your plan every single year cannot be understated, because especially with social security, if we’re in the midst of a recession, if we’re in the midst of a 2008, we’re not going to have somebody take a bunch of money out of their nest egg even though over the last five years we planned to do that. We’re probably going to have at least one of them take social security, protect the value of the nest egg, give it time to bounce back and then adjust accordingly. The planning is via kind of a living, breathing thing and we always have to adapt and adjust.
Speaker 1: Nope, I think that’s a great point. We’ve said that many times here on the podcast that you’ve got to have a plan and then you have to realize that that plan needs to evolve much like your life’s going to. A lot of times we kind of get a collection of things. We have some investments, we have some insurance vehicles, we think about social security. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have a pension and you say, “Okay. Well, I’ve got this collection of things. I’m good to go. I have a retirement plan.” No, you have a collection of things. So pulling them all together in a full retirement plan is really important.
Speaker 1: That’s what John and Nick do every day at PFG Private Wealth, so give them a call if you’ve got questions or concerns. Get on the calendar at 813-286-7776. That’s 813-286-7776. Don’t forget to go to the website, PFGPrivateWealth.com. You can always subscribe to the podcast and get new episodes, check out past episodes, things of that nature on Apple or Google or Spotify. So check them out online as firstname.lastname@example.org and also share the podcast with folks that you think might benefit from it as well.
Speaker 1: This has been Retirement Planning Redefined. Thanks so much for staying tuned into the show. John. Nick, thanks for your time, as always. I hope you have a happy and safe holiday and we’ll talk actually I think in 2020.
Nick: Sounds good.
John: All right.
Speaker 1: You guys-
Nick: Thank you.
Speaker 1: Yeah, absolutely. Take care and enjoy the holidays, everybody, and we’ll see you next time right here on Retirement Planning Redefined.