Survivor benefits are separate from your retirement benefits. In other words, if you take survivor benefits early it doesn’t mean your retirement benefits will be reduced too. If you take survivor benefits, you can defer taking your retirement benefits. This will allow you to grow your retirement benefits until age seventy. If your survivor benefits still exceeded your retirement benefits when you reached age seventy, you’d stick with the survivor benefits. If your retirement benefits are worth more than your survivor benefits, you’d switch over to your retirement benefits.

Here’s another option to consider for survivors who have worked enough to get their own retirement check, but the check is much smaller than a survivor benefit. If your survivor benefits will always be more than your retirement benefits, even with the extra credits you could receive for waiting until age seventy to collect, you could start your own reduced retirement benefits at age sixty-two, and then switch to the deceased worker’s record at full retirement age. This would allow you to maximize your survivor benefit.