My friend's wife died in July, 2013 at the age of 56. He was 64 at the time. He never applied for survivor benefits, never remarried, and has continued working as the President and CEO of a small company. He turned 70 in December shortly after realizing that he could get spousal survivor benefits. When he called Social Security, they told him that he was limited to only 6 months of retroactive benefits and that he should contact a lawyer. I'm a lawyer, but neither I nor any lawyer I know handles spousal survivor benefits (those that deal with social security just handle disability claims). Is there any way to go back more than 6 months? I read that they can go back 12 months in "certain cases" involving a reduced payment) but that appears to be the absolute limit. Is it? What is the best way for him to maximize his social security benefit under this scenario?
Six months is the maximum retroactivity allowed for almost all survivor claims. The exception that allows up to 12 months of retroactivity applies only to disabled widow(er)s and disabled surviving divorced spouses who file for benefits prior to age 61.
It sounds like your friend was probably earning too much to be able to draw any widower's benefits at the time his wife died, but assuming that his wife was insured for Social Security benefits he could have drawn widower's benefits starting at his full retirement age of 66 regardless of his earnings. Unfortunately, though, you can only be paid benefits if you file an application, and if your friend failed to file a timely application for widower's benefits he could only now claim benefits for a maximum of 6 months prior to his month of filing.
Assuming that your friend's own Social Security retirement benefit rate is higher than his widower benefit rate, his best option would almost certainly be to claim widower's benefits starting with the earliest possible month and then switch to his own Social Security retirement benefits effective with the month he attained age 70. If your friend filed an application in December 2018 or at least established a protective filing date by making an appointment during that month, he should be able to claim widower's benefits retroactive to June 2018.