Reckoning With Your Retirement After the Loss of a Spouse
Losing your spouse is hard enough without having to worry about the retirement you have built together. After many years of responsible saving and planning for a comfortable retirement together, it can be devastating to face the prospect of taking on those carefully laid plans alone. Though nothing can ever make up for the loss of a spouse, there are ways in which a widow or widower can lessen the financial burden by collecting some of a spouse's retirement funds.
If you are 60 or older and have been married for at least nine months, you are eligible for a widow's benefit of 71-100% of your spouse's Social Security benefits. The amount is dependent on your age when you begin collecting it and what your current Social Security benefit is, if any. For instance, if your husband received $1800 a month in Social Security and you receive $1000 you will receive the difference of $800 in addition to your usual payment if you are at full retirement age.
However, if your Social Security benefit is higher than or equal to that of your spouse, you will not receive an additional widow's benefit. If you are currently not receiving benefits, you can delay starting your own and opt to collect your husband's benefits for the time being - it's called filing a Restricted Application. This is a fantastic way to boost your benefits since you receive an 8% increase for every year you delay taking your benefit from your full retirement age to age 70. Survivor benefits do not increase. If you remarry any widow's benefits that you receive will end.
Other Government Retirements
If your spouse was a federal government or Civil Service System employee, and you have not specifically waived your rights, you can continue to receive a percentage of this benefit. This benefit is not dependent on any existing retirement income you may have, even if you also have a pension. You may also continue to collect this benefit if you remarry.
If your spouse was a member of the military, you may also be eligible to take advantage of the 2008 HEART Act (Heroes Earnings Assistance and Relief Tax Act). The HEART Act permits rolling all or part of life-insurance and combat-related-fatality payouts directly into your IRA. Annual contributions for IRA's are generally limited to $5,500 a year, but under the HEART Act the entirety of a service member's $400,000 life insurance policy, plus an additional $100,000 for a combat-related fatality, can be rolled directly into a Roth.
Private Pensions and 401(k)s
Pensions received from private employers, similar to government pensions, are paid out as an annuity with a survivor benefit unless you waived your rights. Though the terms of private pensions may vary, you are legally entitled to at least 50% of your deceased spouse's retirement payments. These benefits may be dependent on other retirement income you have and can be affected by a decision to remarry.