Dear Dr. Don,

Are all wives eligible for spousal shares of Social Security, even if they have worked themselves and earned their own Social Security benefits? If so, my second question involves my wife, who is younger than me. When I turn 70, she will be 66. If I start collecting Social Security at that time, is she eligible to collect her spousal share at that time?

-- Barry Benefits

Dear Barry,

All spouses are eligible for spousal benefits if their spouse has enough work credits to qualify for Social Security retirement benefits. The question becomes: Are the spousal benefits more than what the individual would receive based on his or her own work record?

On or after full retirement age, it becomes a little more clear-cut. The spouse would choose between the spousal Social Security benefit or his or her own benefit, based on his or her work record. An important point is that both spouses can't be drawing spousal benefits at the same time.

You didn't give your ages now, so I can't calculate your wife's full retirement age. However, at that age she's entitled to a spousal benefit that is half of your primary Social Security amount based on your full retirement age. The spousal benefit doesn't increase if you decide to wait until age 70 to apply for benefits.

However, if your wife has reached full retirement age and is eligible for a spouse's benefit and her own retirement benefit, she has a choice. She can choose to receive only the spouse's Social Security benefit now and delay receiving her own retirement benefits until a later date. If retirement benefits are delayed, a higher benefit may be received at a later date, based on the effect of delayed retirement credits on her primary insurance amount.

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