Can My Wife Switch To Spousal Benefits, And If So, What Does She Need To Do?

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Jun 26 2020 - 9:33am

I am 70 and my wife will be 66 in August. My wife applied for SS when she was 62 and I collected spousal benefits until I was 70 and then collected my own. I have heard that when my wife turns 66 she can change to spousal benefits from me which would be more than what she is getting now. If this is true, how do I make the switch, I've looked on my wife's acct and don't see where to change that.
Thank you

Hi,

Once a person files for their own Social Security retirement benefits they can never subsequently switch to just drawing a different type of benefit, such as spousal or survivor benefits. But, if a person is drawing their own benefits and then becomes eligible for a spousal or survivor benefit with a higher rate than their own rate, they can file for a partial, or excess, spousal or survivor benefit that could then be paid in addition to their own benefit rate.

So, your wife can't switch from her own benefits to a spousal benefit, but she could potentially apply for an excess spousal benefit. Since your wife was born after January 1 1954, when she filed for her own benefits she was deemed to also be filing for spousal benefits. She couldn't qualify for spousal benefits, though, until you started drawing your benefits. Since you're now drawing your benefits, if your wife was eligible for any additional spousal benefits then Social Security should have asked her to apply for them when you filed for your benefits due to deeming. So, either something was overlooked or your wife doesn't qualify for an excess spousal benefit.

Here's an example, say Jan files for her Social Security retirement benefits at age 62. Jan's primary insurance amount (PIA), which is equal to her unreduced full retirement age (FRA) rate, is $1000, but Jan's rate is reduced for age to $750. When Jan reaches FRA her husband Bill files for his Social Security retirement benefits. Bill's PIA is $2000, but since he waited until age 70 to file he receives an increased rate of $2640. If Jan files for spousal benefits her excess spousal rate would be calculated by subtracting her PIA from 50% of Bill's PIA, which in Jan's case equals $0 (i.e. $2000/2 - $1000). Therefore, Jan isn't eligible for spousal benefits.

Your wife will only qualify for spousal benefits if your PIA is more than twice as much as her PIA, and I have no way of knowing whether it is or not. If you think that your wife should qualify, she'll need to call Social Security to initiate the process of filing an application.

Best, Jerry