I’ll apply for my Social Security benefit when I turn 70 in February 2018. My wife will only be 63 and 8 months at that time. If she applies for Social Security when I do, will she receive half my benefit as my spouse, and then my full benefit if I pass first? Or must she postpone her application until she’s 66 (her full retirement age) to get her full spousal benefit? Her own Social Security benefit is far less than mine. I need to be sure she can get the maximum benefit when I’m gone.

If your wife is over 66 when you die, she’ll receive a survivor benefit equal to 100 percent of the amount you were collecting at that time.

The benefit amount people are able to collect if they apply for Social Security at their full retirement age is called their Primary Insurance Amount (PIA). Those who postpone their application until age 70, as you’ve done, get their PIA plus 8 percent a year for the four years of delay. If your PIA was $2,100, for example, at 70 your starting benefit would be $2,772.

During your lifetime, your wife’s maximum benefit based on your work record — also known as her spousal benefit — is 50 percent of your PIA. It won’t include the extra credits you earned by delaying your application. Moreover, to collect that 50 percent maximum spousal benefit, she must delay her application until she’s 66. If she applies earlier, she’ll receive a discounted amount. The closer she is to her full retirement age, the smaller the discount.

But as your widow, her maximum benefit will be 100 percent of the amount you were collecting — or were able to collect — when you died, including your extra credits.

The bottom line: You can increase your spouse’s survivor benefit by postponing your Social Security application.

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