Social Security Retirement Benefits

Course: Estate Planning
Lesson 3: Understanding Trusts and Trust Documents

Student Question:

This question (below) doesn’t quite make sense to me.  Could you clarify why the correct answer is D?

Robin Elizabeth qualifies for a retirement benefit of $250 and a spouse’s benefit of $400. At her full retirement age, she will receive which of the following?

A) Both $250 and $400.

B) The higher of her benefit or her spouse’s benefit.

C) Her spouse’s benefit of $400.

D) Her benefit of $250 plus $150 from her spouse’s benefit.

Instructor Response:

Great question.  The nuance here is what benefit is paid from which spouse’s record of covered earnings (record).

Robin and her husband each have their own individual record.

  • Robin is paid a retirement benefit of $250 from her own record first. She would receive that amount even if not married.
  • We’re told that Robin has a spousal benefit of $400, calculated as 50% of her husband’s Social Security retirement benefit.
  • She is paid the greater of the spousal benefit or her own benefit.

Here’s the nuance, Robin’s $400 is deemed to come first from her own record ($250 in retirement benefit) and then from her husband’s record for the remaining amount ($150).