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Kiplinger: The Rules of Retirement for Women

Boost your survivor benefits.

If you’re married, make sure you’re not shortchanged when it comes to your husband’s defined-benefit pension and Social Security benefits. You want to make sure you will get the biggest payout if he dies first.

For pensions, monthly payouts are usually paid out in one of two ways: either as a “single life” benefit that ends with the retiree’s death or as a “joint and survivor benefit” that ends after both the employee and spouse die. Lifetime payouts differ for each option. A single-life option could pay out $1,600 a month until the retiree dies, for instance; the joint annuity could pay out $1,300 a month until the retiree dies, then $650 to the surviving spouse until she dies.

Federal law requires the spouse to sign a consent form to waive her right to the spousal benefit. You may be tempted to take the higher, single-life payment. But if you will need the cash after your husband dies, don’t sign the waiver.

If you’re the lower earner, you and your husband can also maximize your Social Security survivor benefit. Survivors are entitled to a benefit of 100% of the worker’s benefit. When the higher earner, usually the husband, claims early, he deprives his lower-earning spouse of extra cash after he dies, especially when she is much younger.

The full retirement age is 66 for those born between 1943 and 1954. If you claim at the early-retirement age of 62, as most beneficiaries do, the benefit is permanently reduced by 25%. For each year you delay claiming benefits past age 66, you get an extra 8%, plus cost-of-living adjustments, until you reach age 70. If a couple’s goal is to boost the survivor’s benefit, the higher earner should delay as long as he can.


More From Kiplinger:
10 Great U.S. Cities for Retirees
5 Costly Retirement Surprises
10 Things You Must Know About Social Security

The opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of Comcast.

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