Ask Larry: Can I File A Restricted Application For Social Security Spousal Benefits Only?

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Social Security may be one of your largest assets. What and when you collect will make a huge difference to your lifetime benefits.

Today’s column responds to questions about restricted applications, the availability of spousal benefits after remarriage, divorced spousal benefit eligibility, retirement benefits when widow’s benefits are also available and spousal benefits after filing early. Larry Kotlikoff is the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, a company that markets Maximize My Social Security, a Social Security benefits calculator referred to in this post.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Ask Larry about Social Security:

Can I File A Restricted Application For Social Security Spousal Benefits Only?​​

Hi Larry, If my wife decides to collect her Social Security retirement benefit when she turns 62 later this year, it would be about $700 and I’m 66. Could I collect a spousal benefit based on her work record until I turn 70 and then collect my increased retirement benefits. And could she then switch to her spousal benefits based on my record when she reaches her full retirement age FRA? Thanks, Stefan

Hi Stefan, Yes, since you were born before 1954 and you would be over full retirement age (FRA) when your wife files for her benefits and assuming that you haven’t already filed for your own benefits, you would then have the option to file just for spousal benefits only and allow your own retirement benefit rate to grow until age 70.

If your wife files for her retirement benefits and she could qualify for additional spousal benefits from your record when you file for your own benefits, she’ll be deemed to have filed for the spousal benefits in your first month of entitlement to your own retirement benefits. She wouldn’t have the option of waiting until FRA to claim spousal benefits. Also, your wife will only qualify for additional spousal benefits if 50% of your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to your full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, is higher than her own PIA. You and your wife may want to use an expert Social Security benefits calculator as described in other answers to determine your best filing strategy. Best, Larry


Could My Future Wife Receive Spousal Benefits Once We’re Married?

Hi My future wife, 52, went on disability a couple of years ago after a lifetime of work several surgeries. Once we are married, can she draw Social Security spousal benefits after I retire at my FRA of 66 this summer without it affecting her disability benefit? She also has full custody of her two young grandkids. Would her disability income be be added to mine to determine our combined maximum family benefit? Would it be better for us to file for the kids’ benefits on her record or on mine since I will be FRA. My retirement benefit at FRA will be $2,000 and her SSDI is $1,400. I am a teacher and could continue to work until I’m 70. Thanks, James

Hi James, Your wife couldn’t receive spousal benefits from your record until she is at least age 62, and the only way she would qualify is if 50% of your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to your full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, is higher than her disability (SSDI) rate. Since it sounds like her SSDI rate is well over half of your full rate, it’s unlikely she could ever be eligible for spousal benefits from your record for as long as you are still living.

Grandchildren can only qualify for benefits on the record of their grandparent or step-grandparent if either a) the grandparent or step-grandparent adopts them, or b) both of the child’s parents die or become disabled before the grandparent or step-grandparent starts drawing Social Security benefits.

If your future wife’s grandchildren could qualify for benefits on both of your records, then they would likely want to draw from your record since your benefit rate is higher. But, they would probably also want to file for technical entitlement on your future wife’s record so that her family maximum benefit rate could be combined with yours in order to free up more benefits to be paid to the children. Best, Larry

How Much Of My Ex-Spouse’s Benefit Rate Could I Receive?

Hi Larry, I see I can collect a divorced spousal benefit based on my ex’s record. I am not clear if my divorced spousal benefit would equal to all or only half of his retirement benefit. I am 66 and he is 67. I am still working as we have not yet been divorced for two years. My retirement benefit will be more than half of, but still lower than, his retirement benefit. Thanks, Rose

Hi Rose, The most that a divorced spouse can receive on a living ex’s record is 50% of their ex’s Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to their full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount. But if the divorced spouse has already filed for their own retirement benefits, they could only be paid the higher of their retirement benefit or their divorced spousal benefit. Best, Larry


Am I Eligible For Widow’s Benefits And Approximately How Much Would It Be?

Hi Larry, My husband died in 2016. He filed for his Social Security retirement beneift. I received a lump sum payment in 2017. He started receiving his retirement benefit benefits in 2014. I retired in 2017 and now receive a private pension. Am I entitled to receive a Social Security widow’s benefit based on my late husband’s work recordand approximately how much would it be? I’m 64 and haven’t yet filed for any Social Security benefits. Thanks, Lucia

Hi Lucia, I’m sorry for your loss. I can’t fully answer your question without much more information. However, it sounds as though you could potentially be entitled to either retirement benefits on your own record or widow’s benefits.

Assuming that’s the case, your best strategy could be one of the following:

  1. File for reduced widow’s benefits now and then switch to your own retirement benefit at 70; or,
  2. File for reduced retirement benefits on your own record now and then file for unreduced widow’s benefits at your full retirement age (FRA).

However, if your husband was entitled to reduced retirement benefits prior to his death that could affect the optimal time for you to claim widow’s benefits. And, if the pension you refer to receiving is based on your earnings that were exempt from Social Security taxes, that could affect your optimal strategy.

An expert Social Security benefits calculator, such as Maximize My Social Security or another highly accurate program help you sort of this all out in order to determine your best overall filing strategy. Best, Larry


Can My Wife Get Spousal Benefits?

Hi Larry, I am 70 and my wife is 64. We both started our Social Security retirement benefits at 62. We never thought about spousal benefits, until we read your posts. My retirement benefit is about $1,550 and hers is about $1500. Can she get a spousal benefit equal to the difference between our benefits and maybe even a retroactive amount? Thanks, Kiley

Hi Kiley, It doesn’t sound like she could. Your wife would only be eligible for additional spousal benefits if 50% of your Primary Insurance Amount (PIA), which is equal to your full retirement age (FRA) retirement benefit amount, was higher than her own PIA. So given the amounts you listed, she wouldn’t qualify for spousal benefits, unfortunately. Best, Larry

To learn more about your Social Security options, visit Economic Security Planning, Inc.

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