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BenefitsLink > Q&A Columns >

Stop, Look & Listen: Railroad Retirement Benefits Q&A

Answers are provided by Robert S. Kaufman

Why Can't My Mother Receive a Widow's Benefit From Social Security?

(Posted July 17, 2007)

Question 630: My mom is a retired railroad employee. She currently receives a monthly pension from Railroad Retirement. My dad recently passed away, but before he died he was receiving a monthly social security pension, as well as a small monthly spouse benefit from Railroad Retirement.

Now that my dad has died, Social Security is telling my mom that she is not eligible for any of his Social Security benefits. Prior to his death we thought she would receive 50%. Can you explain any reason that she would not be eligible for half of his Social Security?

Answer: Without the benefit of seeing your parents' lifetime earnings, I can only assume that your mother earned a higher Tier 1 under Railroad Retirement than your father earned in Social Security benefits. Both Railroad Retirement and Social Security have reductions for other Social Security benefits.

As a widow, your mother technically is eligible for 100% of your father's Social Security. But her Tier 1 benefit under Railroad Retirement would be reduced by the Social Security benefit, and she would not end up receiving any more in total benefits than she is currently receiving in Railroad Retirement benefits. The same would hold true if she was receiving her own Social Security instead of Railroad Retirement.

The person at Social Security was probably just trying to save her the trouble of filing an application and submitting the required evidence at Social Security only to wind up with the same amount in total monthly benefits. In those circumstances, there is no advantage in filing for a widow's benefit.

Important notice:

Answers are provided as general guidance on the subjects covered in the question and are not provided as legal advice to the questioner or to readers. Any legal issues should be reviewed by your legal counsel to apply the law to the particular facts of this and similar situations.

The law in this area changes frequently. Answers are believed to be correct as of the posting dates shown. The completeness or accuracy of a particular answer may be affected by changes in the law (statutes, regulations, rulings, court decisions, etc.) that occur after the date on which a particular Q&A is posted.

Copyright 1997-2017 Robert S. Kaufman
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