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Ask Larry: Will Delaying Social Security Retirement Until 70 Benefit My Wife?

Today’s column addresses questions about how delaying until 70 might benefit a spouse, when grandchildren can be eligible to receive benefits based on the work record of a grandparent and whether the Social Security Administration may owe back pay to someone whose application hit snags. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc, which markets Maximize My Social Security and MaxiFi Planner.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

Have Social Security questions of your own you’d like answered? Ask Larry about Social Security here.

Will Delaying Social Security Retirement Until 70 Benefit My Wife?

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Hi Larry, My wife and I are the same age, 58. She has mostly been a stay at home mom and has earned very little towards Social Security. I have a government pension that dies with me. I want to maximize her Social Security benefits. Will she benefit If I wait until 70? Must she wait until 70 to receive the maximum benefit from my record? Thanks, Calvin

Hi Calvin, Yes, your wife would be eligible for a higher survivor rate if you wait until 70 to start drawing your retirement benefits and no, she doesn’t need to wait until she’s 70 to qualify for a full unreduced widow’s rate.

Widow(er)’s benefits are unreduced as long as the widow(er) is at least full retirement age (FRA) at the time they start drawing the widow(er)’s benefit. Therefore, if you live at least until 70 and you wait until then to start drawing your retirement benefits, and if your wife is at least FRA when she starts drawing survivor benefits, she would be eligible for your full age 70 rate as a widow. She couldn’t be paid that full amount plus her own Social Security retirement benefit rate though, just the higher of the two amounts. My company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — can help you sort through your options and determine the best approach for you and your wife to take. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

Could My Husband Get Social Security For Our Grandson Who Lives With Us?

Hi Larry, If my husband and I have legal and permanent custody of our grandson since 2014 and he’s 10 years old, could my husband get Social Security benefits for our grandson who has been living with us for eight years? Do we have to adopt him or is having legal and permanent custody is good enough to have for him to receive the Social Security benefits? Thanks, Harriett

Hi Harriett, Grandchildren can only qualify for child’s benefits on the record of a grandparent if they are either a) adopted by the grandparent, or b) if both of the grandchild’s natural parents are either deceased or disabled. The grandparent would also need to either be a) deceased or b) drawing Social Security benefits based on their own work record in order for child benefits to potentially be payable. Legal and permanent custody of a grandchild in and of itself would not make the grandchild eligible for benefits on the grandparent’s Social Security record. Best, Larry

Doesn’t Social Security Owe Me Back Payments To 2018?

Hi Larry, I applied for benefits in 2018. Social Security lost my paperwork about three times and misled me into applying for spousal benefits, which were ultimately denied. Doesn’t Social Security owe me back payments all the way back to 2018 when I originally applied? It is not my fault that Social Security lost my paperwork and forced me to go through the lengthy spousal benefits process. Thanks, Laura

Hi Laura, I can’t fully answer your question because I have no way of knowing whether or not you qualified for benefits, nor whether or not you filed a valid application. If you did file a valid application in 2018 for any benefits that you were qualified for, then you may be eligible for back pay from Social Security. But if Social Security’s records don’t reflect that you filed an application, then you’d likely need to prove that you did. Best, Larry

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