After one spouse of a senior couple dies, the survivor will collect one Social Security check per month. The larger of the two checks will keep coming, but there will be a decrease in income. Even so, the survivor may have a higher effective tax rate, as a single filer, so paying ongoing expenses can be challenging.

Cheryl Holland, president of Abacus Planning Group in Columbia, S.C, mentions retired clients whose monthly income need is $10,000. "We project a monthly income need of $7,500 for a surviving spouse," she says. Most of the couple's assets will pass to the husband's children from a prior marriage, perhaps leaving the wife with an income gap, if she's the survivor.

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