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Are you being Underpaid by Social Security?

Are you being Underpaid by Social Security?

July 29, 2023

Back in June 2020 the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General released an internal audit report stating more than 15,000 widows and widowers were being underpaid1. That’s not the first time this has happened, either, back in 2018 it was reported that 9,224 widows and widowers over age 70 were underpaid by $131.8 million.2 And again, in 2016, it was reported that an underpayment of about $224 million had been occurring amongst 25,309 widow(ers).3 How could this be? Well, it boils down to a rule for survivors stating that if death occurs after a minimum of 9 months of marriage then the survivor will be able to collect benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings history.

This may seem unbelievable, but I have no trouble believing it because I’ve seen it. A few years back two very dear clients of mine were married. It was a joyous occasion, as are all weddings. But shortly thereafter cancer was found, and it was terminal. These two obviously had a lot to deal with. Shortly after her wife’s death my client and I met to recalculate her plans. In our discussion the topic of her Social Security income was reached where I learned she was still claiming benefits on her own work history, rather than her higher-earning spouse’s. Now this could be because of a few reasons: 1) My clients, being newly married, didn’t know there was such a thing as survivor benefits. 2) The Social Security Administration didn’t thoroughly look into whether or not she was entitled to a higher benefit and/or 3) The Social Security Administration mistakenly overlooked this option, perhaps because the surviving spouse was close to 10 years older than her wife (she was retired but her wife was still working shortly up to her death). Regardless of the reasoning, my client touched base with Social Security immediately after our time together and found out she was entitled to several hundred dollars more per month!

I will never forget what this meant to her. Not only did it feel better securing a higher monthly income, but it felt good emotionally. She specifically mentioned how this was one more way her wife was taking care of her even though she was gone. It was a tearful yet grateful moment.

What’s more is, this will last for her entire lifetime. And thankfully she is a very healthy individual so the additional several hundred dollars more per month will add up significantly over her lifetime.

If you are a widow(er) and have not explored this option I urge you to do so. In general, the Social Security Administration is required to review all benefits for which a claimant is eligible, which includes other types of benefits or entitlement on another record, but obviously some cases slip through the cracks.

1 OIG.SSA.Gov. Retirement Beneficiaries Potentially Eligible For Widow(er) Benefits. 9 June 2020.

2 Martin, Ray. Social Security Underpays Thousands of Widows and Widowers. 22 February 2018.

3 OIG.SSA.Gov. Underpayments Payable to Widow(er)s Eligible for a Higher Monthly Benefit Amount.  11 April 2016.


Carrie Waters Schmidt is a registered representative of Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp. Securities and investment advisory services offered through Lincoln Financial Advisors Corp., a broker/dealer (member SIPC) and registered investment advisor. Insurance offered through Lincoln affiliates and other fine companies. Equanimity Wealth Planning & Investing is a marketing name for registered representatives of Lincoln Financial Advisors. CRN-5837342-072623