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Straw is preceded by fresh green grass. For this reason, I will begin with grass widows. Nowadays a woman is called a grass widow whose husband had to leave home for example, obliged to work far away from his family. Alternatively, she may be a divorced woman or a woman living apart from her husband so in American English. In all those cases she is not really a widow, but not quite a married woman either.
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The widow er 's limit provision of Social Security establishes caps on the benefit amounts of widow er s whose deceased spouse filed for early retirement benefits. Currently, 33 percent of Social Security's 8. This paper describes the widow er 's limit provision and evaluates proposed changes to it.
The proposals considered range from the modest allowing widow er s to receive adjustments to the capped amounts by delaying receipt of benefits to the substantial abolishing the widow er 's limit. Working papers in this series are preliminary materials circulated for review and comment.
Definition of 'widow'
The findings and conclusions expressed in them are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views of the Social Security Administration. Widow benefits have been a part of the Social Security program since the Amendments to the Social Security Act widower benefits were added later. For many years, the Social Security law called for paying a widow er a fraction of the deceased worker's primary insurance amount PIA. However, the worker— while alive— may have received the full PIA as his or her retirement benefit. Over time, arguments were made that a widow er should be treated as generously as his or her spouse was.
The Amendments to the Social Security Act allowed for a widow er to receive a full PIAsubject to actuarial reductions if the widow er benefit was claimed before the normal retirement age NRA and subject to a new provision of the law commonly referred to as the widow er 's limit.
Generally, the widow er 's limit specifies that if a worker received reduced retirement benefits because the worker claimed benefits before the NRAthen the worker's widow er cannot receive a monthly benefit equal to the full PIA. Rather, the widow er 's benefit is generally limited to the amount the worker would receive if he or she was still alive.
The widow(er)'s limit provision of social security
The limit provision appears to be motivated by the overall intent of the Congress to pay a benefit to a widow er that was comparable with what the worker received. A of changes to the limit provision have been discussed. The most fundamental change— abolishing the limit— would increase benefits for about 2.
Most of the additional government expenditures would not go to the poor and the near poor. Another change would be more successful in aiding low-income widow er s: requiring that the limit amount never be set below the average PIA among all retired-worker beneficiaries. About 58 percent of the government expenditures from that option would be received by the poor and the near poor. Overall, 1. Although the limit provision is consistent with the overall intent of the Congress, it can have effects that may have been unintended and that some policymakers might consider unusual.
Persons who delay receipt of Social Security benefits usually receive higher monthly benefit amounts, but a widow er who faces a limit amount cannot increase his or her monthly benefit amount through delayed receipt of benefits. Thus, many persons who are widowed before the NRA face strong incentives to claim benefits early. That is somewhat unusual because the actuarial adjustments under Social Security are approximately fair, so there are no cost savings to the Social Security program from "forcing" a widow er to claim early as opposed to allowing him or her to delay receipt of benefits in exchange for a higher monthly amount.
And many widow er s would be better off if they could use the Social Security program to, in effect, save that is, delay receipt of benefits in exchange for a higher amount later. This paper analyzes two other options that would provide widow er s with additional filing options under Social Security.
Robert J. Myers, a former Chief Actuary of Social Security, has offered a proposal that would provide relief from the widow er 's limit in cases in which the worker dies shortly after retirement. Legislation in authorized substantial increases in the benefit amounts paid to persons receiving widow er benefits from Social Security.
When should you use ‘widow,’ ‘widower’ & ‘widowed’?
Before the legislation, a widow er was usually eligible for a monthly benefit amount equal to the primary insurance amount PIA of his or her deceased spouse multiplied by 0. Under the act, a widow er could potentially receive the entire PIA rather than a fraction of it.
While living, a deceased spouse may have been receiving a retirement benefit based on work in covered employment that was equal to his or her PIAand the legislative change appears to have been guided, at least partially, by a belief that a widow er should not receive less than what the deceased spouse was receiving. A deceased spouse would not have been receiving a benefit amount equal to his or her PIA if he or she filed for the retirement benefit before Social Security's normal retirement age NRAwhich is age 65 for those born before For example, if a deceased husband had filed on his 63rd birthday, he would have been receiving, before his death, a retirement benefit equal to the PIA multiplied by 0.
Thus, in the example just presented, the widow of the deceased husband could not receive a monthly benefit amount greater than 0. This feature of Social Security is sometimes referred to as the widow er 's limit. In the actual operation of the Social Security programs, it is referred to as the RIB - LIMreflecting the fact that the retirement insurance benefit RIB of someone who worked in covered employment is limiting the amount of a widow er 's benefit.
In the preceding example, the deceased worker filed for retirement benefits on his 63rd Can a man be called a widow and received a benefit less than the full PIAnamely, 0. It is useful to describe how retirement benefits depend on age of filing. Consider a person born before If such an individual becomes entitled to retirement benefits in the month he or she is age 62 the earliest age of eligibilityhe or she receives a monthly benefit amount equal to 0.
For every month in the period that starts with the month the person turns 62 and ends in the month before the month the person turns 65 that a retirement benefit is not claimed, the monthly benefit amount is increased by an actuarial adjustment equal to 0. A person who files at age 65 receives the full PIAand a person who files after age 65 receives the full PIA plus additional amounts referred to as delayed retirement credits.
The computation of widow er benefits has a similar structure to the computation of retirement benefits. A widow er who files for benefits on his or her 60th birthday is eligible for a benefit amount equal to 0. For every month in the period that starts with the month the person turns 60 and ends in the month before the month the person turns 65 that a widow er benefit is not claimed, the monthly benefit amount is increased by an actuarial adjustment equal to 0.
If a person files for a widow er benefit on or after his or her 65th birthday, he or she receives the full PIA. All of this is subject to the widow er 's limit provision— that the benefit amount, generally, may not exceed what the deceased spouse would be receiving if he or she was still alive. As an example of how benefit amounts would be calculated, consider again the man who filed for retirement benefits on his 63rd birthday and who was receiving, before his death, an amount equal to 0.
Assume that his wife was 59 years old when he died. If she filed on her 60th birthday, her benefit amount would be equal to 0. If she chose to delay receipt of widow's benefits, she could earn the 0. It would then be equal to the amount her deceased husband would be receiving if alive and, because of the widow er 's limit, it would be at its maximum amount. The actuarial adjustments made to widow er 's benefits are approximately fair, meaning that the lifetime expenditures under the Social Security programs are about the same regardless of when a benefit is filed for.
Said differently, the savings to Social Security from a widow er benefit not being paid for a given month are balanced by the costs of paying an additional 0. In the last example presented, the widow er 's limit prevents the widow from earning actuarial adjustments after she turns 62 years and 8 months old.
This feature of the law is somewhat unusual and is the focus of much of this paper. If the widow in this example is knowledgeable about the Social Security rules, she will not postpone receipt of widow's benefits past age 62 years and 8 months because doing so means that she will receive Social Security benefits for fewer months in her life with no adjustment to the monthly benefit amount that is, her lifetime benefits will be unambiguously lower if she does not file at that age.
A man is not a widow (widow vs. widower)
So, the widow's limit will "force" her to file by age 62 years and 8 months. If the Social Security law was to allow her to earn fair actuarial adjustments beyond that age, there would be no additional costs to Social Security because the lifetime expenditures associated with her filing at age 62 years and 8 months are about the same as expenditures associated with her filing at some later age and receiving fair actuarial adjustments.
However, allowing her additional filing options might improve her well-being.
Some complications to this line of thinking are discussed later. The widow er 's limit is a fairly obscure feature of the Social Security programs, but it is an important one. About 1 in 3 widow er beneficiaries has his or her benefits limited because of that provision.
There has been legislative interest in modifying the widow er 's limit provision.
The options for doing so range from the modest allowing widow er s to receive adjustments to the capped amounts by delaying receipt of benefits to the substantial abolishing the widow er 's limit. The paper evaluates several of these options.
There has been much discussion about whether benefits provided to widows are adequate. For example, at the beginning of the program, aged widows were eligible to receive 75 percent of PIA. Because the wife's benefit was equal to 50 percent of the PIA and the husband, as a worker, was eligible for percent of PIAa couple could receive percent of PIA. It was reasoned that the widow could get by on 75 percent of PIA or, equivalently, one-half of the amount the couple received U.
Advisory Council on Social Security Note that under the original rules, if the wife died before the husband, he would still receive his worker benefit, which would exceed 75 percent of the PIA. Over time, arguments were made that the widow should be treated as generously and receive an amount equal to what the worker was receiving. InCongress took a step in that direction, and widow er benefits were increased to Inwidow er benefits were increased to make them comparable with benefits paid to workers.
Note that the Although the widow er 's limit provision, in general, requires that a widow er benefit not exceed what the worker would be receiving if alive, a special provision of the Social Security law requires that the limit actually be the greater of what the worker would be receiving if alive or So, for example, if a deceased worker filed for retirement benefits at age 62, he or she would be receiving 80 percent of PIA if alive, but the worker's widow er would face a higher limit, namely, The widow er 's limit, which generally ensures that the widow er does not receive more than the amount the worker would be receiving, appears to be a result of a long-running discussion about what constitutes an adequate benefit for a widow relative to the amount a couple was receiving.
Should the limit be removed?