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Social Security and You: You Don't Have to Be Old to Get Social Security

Tom Margenau on

If you were to play a word association game and the phrase "Social Security" came up, I bet many of you would answer "old people" or "senior citizens." It's normal to associate Social Security with old folks because, well, the majority of Social Security beneficiaries are just that. But about 30% of people getting a monthly check from Social Security are nowhere near their golden years. For example, there are about 5 million children who get Social Security on a living or deceased parent's account. And there are another 10 million people who get Social Security disability benefits. I've saved up some questions that deal with those aspects of Social Security for today's column.

Q: I am 62 and not working. I was planning to wait until age 70 to start my Social Security. But I have a 32-year-old son who has had severe physical and mental problems since birth. He is living with us. My wife is 58 and has never worked outside the home because she has been a full-time caregiver for our son. He has never worked and never will. Is there a way I can sign my son up for my Social Security now and still save my own until I'm 70?

A: No, you can't do that. Your son (and your wife) can get benefits on your record only if you are getting benefits yourself. Because of the extra money that would be payable to your son and wife, I think you need to strongly consider filing for benefits now.

The rules say that a son or daughter who has been disabled since childhood is due a monthly dependent's benefit on a parent's retirement account. And the rules further say that benefits can also be paid to the other caregiving parent, assuming he or she is not working outside the home.

Let's look at what that would mean in your case. At age 62, you would be paid 75% of your full retirement rate. And your son would get an amount equal to 50% of your full retirement benefit. Your wife is also due the 50% rate. Those benefits would continue for the rest of your lives. And if you should happen to die first, your son would get an amount equal to 75% of your full retirement rate. Your wife would get anywhere between 75% and 100%, depending on how old she is when you die.

Q: Our son's wife recently died. They had three children who are all under age 18. We just learned they are possibly due Social Security checks. Are they? And how do we go about getting them?

 

A: If your daughter-in-law was working, and worked long enough to be "insured" for Social Security, then the children would get monthly survivor benefits on her record. How much work she would have needed in order for her children to be eligible for benefits on her account depends on her age when she died. If she was older, she might need 10 years of work. But it could be as few as 18 months of work if she was very young when she died.

Each child is technically due an amount equal to 75% of her full rate. But there is a maximum that can be paid on any Social Security account involving children. The maximum rate depends on several factors. But let's say it is 175% in your daughter-in-law's case. That would mean that each child would get a rate equal to a little less than 60% of their mother's Social Security benefit.

I am assuming your son is working. If he is, then he wouldn't be due any benefits as a caregiving parent similar to those paid to the mother as explained in the answer to the first question. In fact, even if he wasn't working, then the family maximum rules would prevent him from being paid anything extra. To say that another way, if your son was put on the beneficiary rolls, the family would still get the 175% maximum payment. It would just be split four ways instead of three.

As far as how to file for benefits, that's easy. Your son should call Social Security at 800-772-1213 or go online to www.socialsecurity.gov.

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