Dear Rusty: I am 73 and receive a pension from my state’s Police and Fire Pension Fund. I took a full pension, so my wife only gets a widow’s pension when I die, and this is only a fraction of what my full pension is. I also get a small Social Security benefit, about $95 a month, and that amount is pro-rated because of the amount of my state pension. My wife is 71 and receives a Social Security benefit of about $600 a month. When I die, can she get a portion of my Social Security benefit? And will it increase since she will not be getting my full state pension? Signed: Retired Public Servant
Dear Retired: The state you live in is one of 26 which have opted for many state employees to not participate in the Federal Social Security program. As a result, your Social Security benefit, earned from work outside of your state employment, is reduced by your state pension. The details of your state pension and what portion of that pension your wife will receive as your widow isn’t what affects your, or your wife’s Social Security benefit amount. Rather, the base amount of your current state pension is what affects your benefit, due to a rule known as the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP).
WEP is why your Social Security (SS) benefit is only $95/month. WEP applies to your personal Social Security retirement benefit (earned from working outside of your state employment) and reduces your Social Security benefit due to your state pension, because neither you nor your state employer paid SS FICA taxes on your earnings. And since your personal SS retirement benefit is reduced by WEP, your wife’s spousal benefit (not her widow’s benefit) from you would also be reduced, although from the numbers you shared your wife isn’t entitled to a spousal benefit.
Your wife’s own SS retirement benefit from her own work record is not affected by WEP because WEP applies to your benefits only. And neither will your wife’s SS survivor benefit as your widow be affected by your state pension, should you predecease her. If you die first, your wife will be eligible to collect, as her survivor benefit, 100 percent of the amount you were entitled to before your WEP reduction, if that amount is greater than the SS benefit she is entitled to on her own work record. And that would, again, be totally independent of whatever she receives from your State pension. In other words, your wife’s Social Security benefit - her own SS benefit or her survivor benefit - will not be at all affected by your state pension.
The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed in this article are the viewpoints of the Association of Mature American Citizens Foundation’s Social Security Advisory staff. To submit a question, contact the Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.