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Social Security: Why Your Spouse Might Not Get Survivors' Benefits

Making a smart decision about your Social Security benefits requires thinking about your family situation. But if your spouse won't get survivors' benefits on your work record, it can make a huge impact on your decision-making process.

In the following video, Dan Caplinger, The Motley Fool's director of investment planning, looks at one situation where spouses might not get survivors' benefits under Social Security. Dan notes that the Government Pension Offset provisions of Social Security force those public-sector workers who have other pensions and didn't themselves participate in the Social Security program to give up survivors' benefits. Essentially, the provision takes away benefits of up to two-thirds of what you receive from your other pension, which can make some spouses receive nothing after considering the offset. As a result, Dan concludes that those whose spouses might not qualify for benefits need to consider their own life expectancy much more closely in deciding when to take Social Security.

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Read/Post Comments (24) | Recommend This Article (53)

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  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 3:02 PM, sabebrush6 wrote:

    That's as it should be. If you didn't participate, you should get NOTHING !

    You should only get Social Security if you & your employer contributed.

    Social Security is NOT a entitlement program as some of the Democrats try to claim. You & your employer contribute during your working career. That is assuming you got paid weekly above the table & not in cash. Which, by the way, is illegal.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 3:48 PM, eddiedvm wrote:

    Not so fast Sabe. According to numerous studies based on U.S. Census Bureau stats, clearly, the bulk of your so-called "entitlements" are NOT going to poor minority dems, but are, in fact, going to aging white baby boomers, and at an ever increasing rate.

    The two largest entitlements being Social Security and Medicare, are being claimed by, as we ALL KNOW--GOP/Tea Party members. We all know they are the hypocritical windbags who even go so far as to claim they would voluntarily give up these benefits, yet not a single one ever does. Do you really believe these well off double dippers are poor minority dems. Of course you don't.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 3:51 PM, Duck59 wrote:

    sabefrush6 is exactly right. It is a program whereby both contribute and if one does not contribute, then there should not be any pay out.

    HOWEVER, it is the practice of SSA in the event of the death of a spouse, to take away the entire about of their benefits with the exception of any amount which is greater than that of the surviving spouse. For example, the survivor is receiving $1000 a month, and the deceased would have received $1050, the difference being $50.. This is the total amount .. ie: $1050.. The remaining $1000 goes away.. So the deceased spouse work their entire life for a total of $50 per month..

    The government keeps the rest...

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 4:07 PM, Duck59 wrote:


    Were it possible for you to be even more uniformed, it would take a miracle.. You speak of the majority being GOP/TEA Party members.. Beg to differ.. that is IF and its a big IF.. You can back what you say with HARD FACTS..

    Where do you find the data to back up what you say.. List in a plain manner, exactly how you arrived at your point..

    Besides, at NO time does the writer even give any indication towards the views on which your comments are based. It seems to this writer, you have been either drinking too much kool aide or a product of the government public school system who daily reads the DNC talking points.

    You should have listen to Rep Michelle Bachmann as tore into Sen Bernie Sanders on national TV.. She made too clear the lies which are being fostered by the Democratic Party towards the GOP on the subject of social security.

    What liberals fail to grasp is the American public has finally began to see thru the liberal establishments hog wash... and hopefully will come to its senses in November by casting out the whole lot from congress.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 5:15 PM, Temporaryguest1 wrote:

    Which government jobs don't with hold foe SS?

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 5:17 PM, silvermoon wrote:

    maybe you shouldn't be so fast Eddiedvm. The people who get Medicare and Social Security are the people who have worked all their lives and contributed money out of their paychecks to these programs. Where the hel# do you think this money comes from bud? It comes from working people, not the moochers out there who think they're entitled to what other people have worked for. People like you make me sick. Get a life and a job.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 5:46 PM, greyhound44 wrote:

    My wife left in Nov 2005. After nearly 28 years of marriage. Not fun.

    I retired 31 Aug 2003, and became an expatriate.

    I took maximum SS retirement benefits (reduced for age) at age 62 after 35 + years of maximum contributions and Medicare at age 65.

    Screw all who criticize us!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 6:08 PM, herky46q wrote:

    Temporary, federal employees under the older Civil Service Retirement System don't pay into Social Security. I don't know about state and local government.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 6:09 PM, norcaltc wrote:

    What he is referring to is called the "Windfall Elimination Provision." It is a provision that actually punishes government employees who did pay into Soc. Sec. and have a government pension also. It allows Soc. Security to reduce the amount of benefits you are entitled to just because you receive another retirement from government agency. My Soc. Sec. benefits would have been $600 per month more if I did not receive a government pension. I was not aware of this provision until I applied for Soc. Sec. benefits at 62. I went into the local Soc. Sec. office and when my benefits were calculated I was told my benefits would be X$ but when they calculated my government pension, they told me they would be reducing my Soc. Sec. benefits by $600 per month. I couldn't believe it.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 7:20 PM, clchapman wrote:

    Teachers do not pay SS, most city and state employees do not pay, Railroad employees do not pay not sure who else

    I hate to break anyone bubble but when it comes to SS you are not asked what your party affiliation is and if you are democrat or liberal or republican or tea party. SS does not care what your political views are, they only care to keep info from you or try mislead you in some way

    I can remember my Dad that has been dead since 1977 saying that SS would not be there when he retired well he was wrong.

    I told our sons for years I would never collect SS as it would be gone well surprise it is still here

    Spousal benefits do not go away unless a pension is involved, but that does not keep the spouse from drawing her/his own

    The loss would only come if the spouse never worked and had no benefits under their on name

    SS is not going away

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 8:40 PM, txJerome wrote:

    greyhound44, no criticizing. Expat retirement is the best option.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 9:01 PM, india123 wrote:

    I believe I read in one of the above statements, (that sagebrush6, maybe) said that the Democrats says that soc. sec. was an entitlement program?? He is all mixed up because President Rosavelt, a DEMOCRAT started the soc. sec program and it has worked perfectly ever since. So please give credit where it is due. Lets face it, the Repubs have not done anything of any value in years if ever, and hopefully when election rolls around, we can get rid of some of the lazy one who have "NO" on anything & everything that comes up.

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 9:12 PM, Rat1 wrote:

    @ clchapman - In my state all city employees, teachers and other state employees, and 'railroad workers' all pay into Social Security. In what instance would someone be getting a pension who didn't pay into the SS system during their working career?

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 9:54 PM, Oldswab61 wrote:

    eddiedvm, you must really have your head up your anal cavity to be quoting Michele Bachman as anything relating to truth.This brainless tw at would nt know a fact if it crawled up and bit her.You an d your Fascist Republican inbreds think you can bully the rest of us around but one day soon youll be on the toe of our boots as wek kick you to the ground for the worthless whining bullies all of you are!!!

  • Report this Comment On April 06, 2014, at 10:42 PM, PanhandleSlim wrote:

    Texas teachers do not pay into SS. My wife is a retired teacher. I will not collect SS until I turn 70. That will maximize my SS and will increase what my wife will receive once I am gone.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 2:48 AM, shotgunrosie wrote:

    Eddiedvm.... I worked all my life and paid into SS and Medicare... it's not free. I pay $104 a month for medicare and $42 a month for drug plan. So where is this entitlement?

    You need to get your facts straight. MEDICAID is the freebee for the lazy ones who don't want to work or are illegal...

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 4:42 AM, jpweigand wrote:

    to the guy that says if you die someone gets $50 well he is dead. besides its an insurance policy also .if you become disabled in your 20's you get a payment,without paying in much. It works both ways.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 10:06 AM, irene wrote:

    LIke Hell Teachers don't pay into social security. Get your facts straight. As a former teacher , I know for a fact that teachers pay SS. This comment is response to someone in above comments.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 10:10 AM, Efesgirl wrote:
  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 10:44 AM, williamearl wrote:

    I know for a fact that Rail Road employees do not pay SS. They do pay into Rail Road Retirement plans. They do not get SS payments when they retire, but they do receive Rail Road Retirement Check, which is far better than SS. Then again they pay more into Rail Road retirement while working. I know this because I worked for the Rail Road for a few years. I also worked for other companies that took out SSI from my pay checks. That money is suppose to come to me when I reach 62. I am now 64 and can not receive SSI checks because I receive Rail Road Retirement. All the money I paid into SSI goes to government. The whole system is a rip offf by our government. All the democrats I know are idiots.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 11:24 AM, aed100 wrote:

    In some states (Texas and Maine, for example), teachers do not pay into social security. They do pay in most states.

    Here's where teachers and other public servants get cheated: if you work at a job where you pay into SS, and then switch to teaching, you will be penalized if you try to take both.

    I paid into SS for twenty years, then switched to teaching in Texas. I didn't realize at the time that I would have to forfeit either the pension or the SS on retirement. When I left Texas after 13 years of teaching, I took my pension as a lump sum. Otherwise, I would never see a penny of it when it's time to collect social security.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 12:17 PM, anvnjn wrote:

    I am currently a state employee in Missouri, have been a city, court, and county employee in the past, we all pay into SS. My wife was a teacher in Missouri for 12 years. She was informed right off the bat that she would not be eligible for SS benefits because of her teacher's pension, however up until just a few years ago she still had to pay into it anyway.

  • Report this Comment On April 07, 2014, at 7:08 PM, birch09 wrote:

    Norcaltc the windfall provision only effects Federal Employees who's pensions didn't pay into SS i.e. CSRS. Thus doesn't include Federal Employees who fall under FERS.

  • Report this Comment On April 08, 2014, at 1:41 AM, jn wrote:

    The government says I do not qualify for spousal benefits because I was a teacher and did not pay into SS. I get that I don't get SS, but not why I can't get spousal benefits like any other wife. There are women who never worked, therefore never paid into SS, who get benefits, so why can't I get them?

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Dan Caplinger

Dan Caplinger has been a contract writer for the Motley Fool since 2006. As the Fool's Director of Investment Planning, Dan oversees much of the personal-finance and investment-planning content published daily on With a background as an estate-planning attorney and independent financial consultant, Dan's articles are based on more than 20 years of experience from all angles of the financial world.

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