Q. My husband just passed away at age 64. He had taken early retirement at age 63 but switched to disability because he had retired due to his poor health. I have been told that I am not entitled to any survivor benefits (other than a lump sum of $255) because I am still working and make too much money. Can this be true? I have also been told that upon retirement I will only be entitled to his or my retirement benefit – which ever is greater (mine is).

The information you have been given is correct. A wife or widow is entitled to whichever is greater – her own benefit or her spouse or widow benefit. Both benefits are not payable.

A widow, however, does have the option of deciding which benefit to begin first. You can begin a reduced widow benefit as early as age 60 and then at full retirement age or later switch over to your own benefit. Your own benefit will reach its maximum at age 70. If you are continuing in the work force at earnings that preclude paying benefits, you could begin your widow benefit in the year you reach full retirement age and let your own benefit grow due to delayed retirement credits until you reach 70. That would optimize the benefit you would have for the balance of your life.