Q. I will be 66 in 18 months; my wife will be 42 at that time. We have two children, ages 5 and seven. Can you estimate what benefits would be for us at my full retirement age and at age 70? If I pass away, what would the benefit be to my wife and children? Assume maximum Social Security tax contributed over 30 years.
Your most recent Social Security Statement provides the answer to your questions. If you begin your benefits the month you reach full retirement age, the combined benefits to you and your family will be the maximum family benefit shown on your Statement. You will receive your benefit and the difference between your benefit and the family maximum will be divided equally between your wife and children. When the youngest child reaches age 16, the benefit to your wife will cease and the difference will be divided between the two children. The children’s benefits will continue to age 18, 19 if still in high school. The final child on the rolls will receive 50 percent of your full-retirement-age benefit.
Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, there is no longer an earnings limitation. Benefits are payable regardless of earnings. Benefits to dependents are always based on the full-retirement-age benefit so there is no advantage to deferring your own benefit once the earnings limitation is no longer a factor. Your best option would be to file for benefits for yourself and family as of January of the year you will become full retirement age. Advise the Social Security Administration of your anticipated annual earnings and they will determine how many months of benefits you can receive before the month you reach full retirement age.
The response to your second question is essentially the same. If there are more than two surviving dependents, the family maximum is the amount payable. Each surviving dependent is entitled to 75 percent of your full benefit. Because three times 75 exceeds the family maximum, each would receive one-third of the amount payable. When the youngest child reaches age 16, your wife’s benefit would cease and each child would receive 75 percent of your full benefit until he or she came off the benefit rolls.