Q: I took my Social Security at age 62 so my 14-year-old son and his 55-year-old mother could get benefits on my record. My son is about to turn 16. So his mother will no longer be eligible for benefits. But my son’s checks were coming in my wife’s name. Will I have to go to our Social Security office to get the checks made out in my name?
A: You can do that if you want. But you really don’t have to. Before I clarify this, let me give some background for other readers. The law says that children of a retiree can get dependent benefits until the age of 18. The law further says that the mother of the child also can get benefits (assuming she is not working) until the child turns 16. So you are correct that benefits to your wife will stop. However, she can continue to be the payee for your son’s Social Security checks, unless for some reason you want the checks to come in your name. Frankly, I don’t think it would be worth the hassle to change things.
Q: I am 74. My wife is 72. I get $2,440 per month from Social Security. My wife gets $1,190 in her own Social Security. Recently, I went to the Social Security office to get a new Medicare card because I lost my old one. While I was there, I asked what my wife will get when I die.
The lady there told me she’d get half of my rate. Yet in one of your recent columns, you said a widow over age 66 gets 100 percent of her husband’s Social Security. So who is right — you or the woman at the Social Security office?
A: Maybe we both are. I just think we answered your question in different ways. I was correct in saying that a widow is generally due 100 percent of her husband’s Social Security after he dies (assuming she is over age 66 when that happens). But that is not in addition to her own benefit. Rather, her widow’s rate is offset by her own retirement benefit.
In other words, when you die, your wife will be due total benefits in the amount of $2,440 (100 percent of your benefit rate). She will keep getting her $1,190 retirement check, and then she will get $1,250 in widow’s benefits to take her up to your $2,440 level. That’s roughly one half of your current benefit. So I’m guessing the Social Security rep you were talking to was telling you that she would get about half your benefit — which would be added on top of her own retirement benefit.
Q: I will turn 66 in January 2018 and plan to file for my Social Security then. I run my own business. I expect a fairly significant net profit for this year. I am wondering if I should wait until I prepare my 2017 taxes before I file. Will that help me?
A: The addition of your 2017 income to your overall Social Security record will likely cause a slight bump in your Social Security benefit rate. If you wait until after you file your taxes, and then bring in your tax return with you when you sign up for Social Security benefits, they will be able to add in those earnings to your Social Security computation right away. But if your tax return isn’t prepared and filed until after you sign up for Social Security, it’s not really that big a deal. The Social Security Administration has a computer matching operation with the Internal Revenue Service. So sometime during 2018, your 2017 tax return information will be added to SSA’s files and your benefit would be refigured. And assuming those earnings boost your benefit, the rate bump will be retroactive to January 2018.
Q: I am getting Social Security disability benefits. I turn 66 in December 2018 and I know that, at that time, I will be converted to Social Security retirement benefits. I plan to start working then. But can I start working in January 2018 already?
A: Well, maybe yes and maybe no. This gets a little tricky. Here is why. The only reason you are getting disability benefits is because you have been determined to be unable to work because of your impairments. So if you return to work while still getting disability benefits, that’s going to set off alarm bells at SSA, and you possibly could jeopardize your eligibility for those benefits.
Having said that, there are all kinds of work incentives built into Social Security law that allow people like you to try working while still getting disability benefits. So you may be able to get into one of these so-called “trial work periods” between January and December of next year and continue to get your disability payments.
Once you reach age 66, this all becomes a moot point because then you will be considered a retiree, not a disabled person, and retirees over age 66 can work and earn as much money as they want. So you should talk to someone at your local Social Security office about setting up a “trial work period.”
Q: I have a 70-year-old friend whose 54-year-old husband just deserted her for a younger woman. He took everything. Is my friend eligible for any of his Social Security now?
A: I’m sorry, but a married woman can’t get spousal benefits until the husband is getting Social Security himself. And that may not be until he is 66 or even 70.
There would be a slight advantage if she divorces him. The law says a divorced woman can get spousal benefits even if the husband hasn’t applied for Social Security. But he does have to be at least 62 years old. So I’m afraid your friend has at least 8 years to wait before she qualifies for any of her husband’s Social Security.
If she wants to wish him ill will, she can hope he drops dead from all the excitement of his new girlfriend! She would start getting widow’s benefits right away if that happens.
Q: I am 72 years old. I have a companion dog who is like a child to me. Can I get Social Security benefits for the dog? And I’m being serious. I don’t see anything in the law that says a dependent has to be a human being.
A: Well, the law doesn’t say your dependent has to be human, but it does say it must be your “biological child.” And unless you have a story ready for the National Enquirer, I doubt your pooch meets that criterion.