What Is The Best Filing Strategy For My Brother And His Wife?

Dec 7 2016 - 4:30pm

I was very grateful to have heard of your book in a Paul Solman Newshour piece and bought it in 2014 (regrettably, I was unaware of the changes made to the filing rules in 2015) in order to help me make the best decision possible for my brother, brain injured at birth and mentally disabled, and his mentally disabled wife. They met at work and both retired early (against their families' advice) and so have a meager pension - a total of $500 monthly between them - and it's been a struggle to help them financially. They were both born in 1954 - she on January 4 and he on October 17. I had planned to have her file for early benefits - at this point, at 63 in January 2017 - and have him wait until his FRA to file (I calculate they will get about the same amount in benefits). My sister-in-law's health is fragile and I doubt she'll outlive my brother. What advice can you give me to get the most out of their Social Security benefits? I have been reading your columns, as well as Phil Moeller's, but can't find a situation that fits ours closely enough to help and I worry about making a mistake that will affect them (and me!) for the rest of their lives.

Also, can my brother collect something from SSA of our deceased father's benefit, as a permanent dependent (as certified by the State Department, where our father worked). Thank you for any help you can give me, and I especially thank you for contributing to the common good in such a concrete way.


Well, my first thought is that they should both probably look into applying for disability benefits. If their impairments are severe enough to meet Social Security's requirements, they may be able to receive their full retirement age benefit rates early in the form of Social Security disability benefits. And, if they have very limited incomes and assets, they may also qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI) payments. For more information on these programs, refer to the SSA website: https://www.ssa.gov/disabilityssi/.

A person must be unmarried to qualify for disabled adult child's benefits on a parent's Social Security record, so that's not an option for either your brother or your sister-in-law.

If your brother and sister-in-law don't qualify for disability benefits, their retirement benefits are probably their only option. As you're apparently aware, the new deeming law that Congress passed in 2015 (https://www.ssa.gov/planners/retire/deemedfaq.html) took away their ability to file for spousal benefits at full retirement age without also being deemed to apply on their own account. And, since it sounds like they have similar potential benefit rates, they will likely each just qualify for benefits on their own records, at least for as long as both of them are living. The surviving member of the couple could later become eligible for the higher of their 2 benefits as a widow(er).

As you are probably also aware, the sooner they start drawing their retirement benefits prior to age 70, the lower their benefit rates will be. So, unless they qualify for disability benefits, they'll just need to decide when to take their retirement benefits. Full retirement age is 66 for both of them. If they start drawing reduced retirement benefits at age 62, their benefit rates will be reduced by between 20 & 25%. Or, if they wait until age 70 to start drawing, their benefit rates would be 32% higher than their full retirement age rates.

Best, Jerry