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Ask Bob: Can I Switch from My Social Security Benefit to a Survivors Benefit?

David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert for MassMutual, explains whether a spouse can switch Social Security benefits.

Question: Does my age restrict me from switching benefits between my Social Security and my deceased husband's? I was born in 1960 and married for 23+ years to a man who was born in 1950, but he is now deceased. I am currently married to a man born in 1943 and will be married 10 years in April 2021.

Answer: You're currently 60 years old and eligible to claim survivors benefits, says David Freitag, a financial planning consultant and Social Security expert for MassMutual, explains whether a spouse can switch Social Security benefits. "However, because you remarried before she was 60, you can only claim benefits from your current husband’s record," he says.  

David G. Freitag

David Freitag

What's more, Freitag says your options to collect survivors benefits depend on the relationship between your earnings record and the benefits available from your current husband’s record. "They are also impacted by your current earnings," he says.

It is possible, says Freitag, for a widow to collect survivors benefits from her husband and let her own benefit grow with delayed retirement credits. Then at her age 70, she can switch over to her own record if her check is larger.

Question: My mother collected Social Security early from my biological father who passed in 1974. When she reached full retirement age she switched to her second deceased husband's Social Security as it paid more, and I was hoping to do the same with my benefits. I won't likely be able to collect until I reach full retirement age because of a state pension I am receiving. 

Answer: This is a very important point to research, says Freitag. 

"There are 15 states in this country that have their own retirement plans and do not collect Social Security taxes from their employees," he says. "If your pension comes from one of those 15 states, you will be subject to something called the government pension offset or GPO."  

If you have a large pension, the GPO offset could wipe out any survivor benefits available from your husband, says Freitag. "The best way to determine if you will be subject to the GPO offset is to review your earnings history on your full Social Security statement, the Green Line form," he says.

If you have paid Social Security taxes they will show up on page three of the report and this offset will not apply, says Freitag. 

Question: Will I be able to collect my benefit at 67 then switch to my first husband's Social Security when I turn 70, assuming my current husband is deceased? 

Answer: No if you remarried before your age 60 your first husband is out of the picture, says Freitag. "If you remarried after age 60, then both husband’s records are available to you," he says. 

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Ask Bob: Are 60-year-old Widows Eligible to Receive Survivors Benefits?

Question: Does my age restrict me from switching benefits between my Social Security and my deceased husband's? I was born in 1960 and married for 23+ years to a man who was born in 1950, but he is now deceased. I am currently married to a man born in 1943 and will be married 10 years in April 2021.

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