Ask Larry: Will My Wife Be Able To Claim Social Security Spousal Benefits On My Account?

Today’s column addresses questions about when and if spousal benefits may become available, foreign pensions’ effects on benefits, when survivor benefits can become available, remarriage and Medicare benefits and survivor rates for disabled adult children. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Will My Wife Be Able To Claim Social Security Spousal Benefits On My Account?

Hi Larry, I began my benefits at 62 and am 64 now. I do not work. My wife wife and I are separated and she still is working. Can she claim benefits on my account? If so, does that reduce my benefit? Thanks, Jim

Hi Jim, Your wife could apply for spousal benefits on your record, but she’d only qualify for spousal benefits if 50% of your primary insurance amount (PIA) is more than twice as much as her own PIA. A person’s PIA, by the way, is equal to their Social Security retirement benefit rate if they start drawing their benefits at full retirement age (FRA).

There is also an earnings test that could cause your wife’s benefits to be fully or partially withheld until she reaches FRA if she continues working. If your wife does qualify for any spousal benefits from your record, it would not have any effect at all on your Social Security benefits. Best, Larry

Will My British Pension Affect My US Social Security?

Hi Larry, I worked in England for 18 years and I have lived in the States as a permanent resident since the early 90s. When I finally retire, I will have thirty years of substantial earnings. Will my British pension effect my US social security? Thanks, Ralph

Hi Ralph, Your US Social Security benefits will not be affected by your British pension as long as you have at least 30 years of U.S. Social Security covered earnings that are considered substantial as defined in the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP) regulations. The annual amounts required to be considered “substantial earnings” are listed on page 2 of this Social Security publication.

When I Die At What Age Can My Wife Start Collecting From My Record?

Hi Larry, I am 56 and my wife of five years is 30. I am in excellent health and will likely live well into my 80s. My wife works and is making around $60k per year and paying Social Security taxes. When I die, at what age can my wife start to collect spousal benefits from Social Security? Thanks, Doug

Hi Doug, Your wife could potentially be paid widow’s benefits as early as 60, or 50 if she becomes disabled. However, if she starts drawing widow’s benefits prior to her full retirement age (FRA) of 67, her benefit rate will be reduced for age.

You don’t mention children, but if your wife has a child of yours in her care who’s under age 16 or disabled, then she could potentially qualify for surviving mother’s benefits at any age.

If your wife qualifies for widow’s benefits and starts drawing them at FRA or later, she’d be paid the higher of her own rate or your benefit rate. So if you wait past FRA to start drawing your benefits and accrue delayed retirement credits (DRC), that higher rate could be passed on to your widow. Conversely, if you start drawing your benefits early that would lower your wife’s potential widow’s rate. You and your wife may want to try one of my company’s two tools — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to explore and compare her options so that she can choose the best possible strategy for claiming her benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Will I Lose My Benefits And Medicare If I Remarry?

Hi Larry, I am concerned because I receive survivor’s benefits based on my late husband’s record. I now want to remarry. I am disabled and I am 53. Will I lose my benefits if I remarry? I also receive Medicare, will I lose that too? Thanks, Sarah

Hi Sarah, Assuming that what you’re receiving are disabled widow’s benefits (DWB), then neither your DWB benefits nor your Medicare eligibility would be affected by a remarriage. Best, Larry

How Would My Disabled Child’s Survivor Rate Be Calculated?

Hi Larry, My child is receiving Childhood Disability Benefits as she became disabled early in life. It appears that my she would eventually get 75% of my own retirement benefit.

If I claim this year at 62 instead of my full retirement age of 66 and a half and take a reduced retirement benefit, is my daughter’s eventual survivor benefit reduced accordingly? And likewise, if I wait until 70 to claim, will my daughter’s eventual survivor benefit go up to 75% of that fully increased benefit amount?

If I die at, say, age 68, before claiming, is my daughter’s survivor benefit calculated at 75% of what I would have received by claiming at 68? Or does she just get 75% of my full retirement age benefit regardless of my own claiming or death age? Thanks, Dirk

Hi Dirk, The full benefit rate for a surviving disabled adult child, now known as Childhood Disability Benefits (CDBs), is equal to 75% of the deceased’s parent’s primary insurance amount (PIA). A person’s PIA is equal to the amount of their Social Security retirement benefit if they start drawing at full retirement age (FRA).

If you file for your benefits at age 62, your reduced rate would not affect your child’s benefit rate. Nor would waiting until age 70 to claim your benefits affect your child’s rate. Either way, your disabled child’s full survivor rate would be calculated at 75% of your PIA. That would also be true if you died at age 68 having never claimed benefits. Best, Larry

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