When we are talking about Social Security benefits, almost everyone wants more, not less. You can probably find 10,000 articles on the Internet if you search “maximizing your Social Security.” But I’ll give you $1,000 if you can find one story headlined “minimizing your Social Security.”
Or consider this. Over the past 50 years, I think I’ve heard from about 50,000 people who told me they believe they are being cheated out of Social Security benefits or that they are just not getting enough money each month. Nobody has ever told me they think they are getting too much or that their Social Security benefits are too high.
Until now, that is. I’ve saved up some emails from people who aren’t exactly saying they get too much money, but who, for a variety of reasons, don’t want their Social Security checks.
Q: I was born and raised in France, and I am a French citizen. But I have lived and worked in the United States for the past 25 years. I am about to turn 62 and retire, and I plan to move back to the south of France where I have a villa near Nice. I was married to an American citizen. We have been divorced for a few years, but we are still very good friends. She is also 62. Because my family is wealthy, I really don’t need my American Social Security check. I would like to give my Social Security to my ex-wife. Can you tell me how I go about doing that?
A: That’s not how it works. You can’t give away your Social Security, although in a roundabout way, you can do something similar. And your wife may be eligible for spousal benefits on your account. Let me explain.
Because you have worked and paid into the U.S. Social Security system for a quarter-century, you are due Social Security retirement benefits as early as age 62. Even if you move back to France, you are still due the money. (You worked and earned it, after all.) And your Social Security checks can be sent to your bank account in France.
When you file for benefits, your ex-wife can file for spousal benefits on your record. (This is assuming she has not remarried, is not working, and is not due higher benefits on her own Social Security record.)
At the beginning of this answer, I said you can’t give your Social Security to your ex-wife. And by that, I meant you can’t assign the benefits to be paid in her name. But once you start getting your monthly benefits, the money is yours to do with as you please. So if you want to send her money each month in the amount of your Social Security check, go ahead and do it. And by the way, your ex is one lucky woman!
Q: I am about to turn 66. I have worked and paid into Social Security for all of my adult life. But good fortune has shined on me, and I am independently wealthy. I simply don’t need my Social Security. I am single. I’ve never married. I really have no family other than some very distant cousins. I heard there is some procedure where I can have the proceeds of my Social Security check returned to the Social Security trust funds so that other people will get the benefits of my contributions. Do you know how that works?
A: You can’t just have your Social Security benefits deposited into the Social Security trust funds. But there is a procedure that allows you to make donations to the trust funds. (Just google “Donation to Social Security trust funds.”) So I suppose you could take the proceeds of your Social Security check and write a check each month (or maybe annually) to the trust funds.
But do you really want to do that? Your thousands of dollars in contributions to a multitrillion-dollar fund would be so insignificant, it would be essentially meaningless.
If you really don’t want the money, can’t you think of something better to do with it? Like maybe donate the proceeds to your favorite charity? Or how about sponsoring a college scholarship for a deserving youngster? I’m sure you can think of something.
Q: My wife and I are both 66. We have done well financially. We really don’t need our Social Security. Can we assign our benefits to our son, who has struggled mentally, physically, and financially all his life?
A: As explained earlier in this column, you can’t give away or “assign” your Social Security benefits to anyone else. But it is your money. So you can do whatever you want with it. And if you want to turn the proceeds of your monthly Social Security benefits over to your son, you can go right ahead and do that.
But here is one other thought. You said your son has had problems all his life. If he has some serious physical or mental issues that began before he was 22 years old, he might qualify for what are known as “disabled adult child” benefits on your Social Security account. To learn more, read the chapter about disabled children in my little Social Security guidebook. (Ordering instructions are at the end of the column.)
With the little space I have left, let me switch courses a bit and discuss a tangential issue. Several times in this column, I used the phrase—”It’s your money, and you can do what you want with it”—when referring to someone’s Social Security benefits.
Well, every once in a while, I will get emails from readers who want to report what they think is fraudulent activity, because someone they know is spending his or her Social Security money at casinos or buying lottery tickets or some other related endeavor.
I always have to tell these people that gambling away their Social Security check may not be the wisest thing to do. But it’s not fraud. And by the way, that includes people getting Social Security disability benefits. To repeat: It’s their money to do with as they please. (It’s a completely different story for people getting Supplemental Security Income benefits. Those are welfare payments, and they must be spending their money on basic needs such as food and shelter.)
Tom Margenau worked for 32 years in a variety of positions for the Social Security Administration before retiring in 2005. He has served as the director of SSA’s public information office, the chief editor of more than 100 SSA publications, a deputy press officer and spokesman, and a speechwriter for the commissioner of Social Security. For 12 years, he also wrote Social Security columns for local newspapers, and recently published the book “Social Security: Simple and Smart.” If you have a Social Security question, contact him at email@example.com