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How Will My Son’s Social Security Disability Benefit Affect Our Family Maximum?

Today’s Social Security column addresses questions about a disability benefit can affect the family maximum that can be claimed on a single record, survivor benefits after delaying until 70 and spousal benefits with a foreign pension. Larry Kotlikoff is a Professor of Economics at Boston University and the founder and president of Economic Security Planning, Inc.

See more Ask Larry answers here.

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

How Will My Son’s Social Security Disability Benefit Affect Our Family Maximum?

Hi Larry, How does a child disabled prior to 22 but collecting on their own work record affect the family maximum? My son was able to work for a brief time. He qualified for SSDI on his work record and is currently collecting benefits. He at no point earned in excess of the SGA limits. If my lower earning spouse begins collecting at 62 and I claim child-in-care benefits under her record, what effect does my son’s benefit have on the family maximum?

For example, let’s say my wife’s PIA is $850 and my son is currently receiving $630. Would this mean I would receive a child-in-care benefit as his benefit wouldn’t count against the family maximum? Thanks, Jesse

Hi Jesse, In the example in your question, your son would only be technically entitled to childhood disability benefits (CDBs) since his own Social Security disability (SSDI) benefit rate is higher than his CDB rate. In other words, he’d keep getting his own SSDI payment and his CDB payment would be zero.

But the fact that your son wouldn’t be paid any CDBs would allow his share of the family maximum benefit (FMB) to be paid to you. So assuming that you aren’t receiving any other Social Security benefits and if you qualify for child-in-care spousal benefits, then you could be paid up to a full 50% of your wife’s primary insurance amount (PIA).

Distribution of the FMB can be quite complicated. Furthermore, if and when both you and your wife are collecting Social Security retirement benefits, then the FMBs from both of your records could likely be combined. You and your wife may want to consider using my company’s software — Maximize My Social Security or MaxiFi Planner — to ensure your household receives the highest lifetime benefits. Social Security calculators provided by other companies or non-profits may provide proper suggestions if they were built with extreme care. Best, Larry

If I Don’t Start My Retirement Benefits Until 70, Would My Wife Be Able To Draw A Higher Survivor Benefit Rate?

Hi Larry, I am 65 and drawing survivor benefits from my wife’s SS. I have remarried and it is my understanding if I draw the survivor benefit until 70 and then if I die first, my current wife would be able to draw survivor benefits off my record at a higher rate. Is this true? Thanks, Dal

Hi Dale, Yes, if you wait until 70 to start drawing your Social Security retirement benefits and if you die at 70 or later ,then your surviving spouse could be paid up to your full age 70 rate as a survivor.

She couldn’t draw both her own retirement benefit and her survivor’s benefit at the same time though, just the higher of the two rates. And if she starts collecting survivor’s benefits prior to her full retirement age (FRA), then her survivor rate would be reduced for age. Best, Larry

Can You Explain Why My Claim For Spousal Benefits Was Denied?

Hi Larry, I was denied spousal benefits and am not sure why. My spouse has been collecting his retirement benefit for more than 3 years. We have been married 38 plus years. And I meet the minimum age requirement.

I applied at my full retirement age of 66 and two months. I am a dual citizen of Canada and the US and we have lived and worked here since 1994. I sent SSA that documentation of the small amount I receive from work years in Canada prior to moving for work to the US. Can you help me understand why they denied my claim? Thanks, Marie

Hi Marie, I’m not sure if you mean that your claim for spousal benefits was disallowed for not meeting the eligibility requirements or if your claim was approved but with a benefit rate of zero. If it’s the former, there’s nothing stated in your question that would give me a clue as to why.

But if it’s the latter, then I assume that Social Security is incorrectly counting your Canadian pension as a government pension for purposes of the Government Pension Offset (GPO) provision.

In either case, it sounds like you should probably file an appeal request. You have 60 days from the date of your notice in which to file for an appeal. If your claim was disallowed for not meeting the eligibility requirements, your disallowance notice should tell you why.

But if your claim was approved but for a zero benefit amount, then it sounds like Social Security may be misapplying the GPO provision. GPO can cause spousal benefits to be offset by 2/3rds of the amount of a person’s pension that’s based on their work for a governmental agency, but only if the governmental agency is US agency.

Foreign pensions are excluded from the definition of a government pension for GPO purposes. So if Social Security is offsetting your spousal benefits because of your Canadian pension, they’re doing so improperly.

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