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Got Money Questions?

Personal finance expert Jane Bryant Quinn answers your queries

Jane Bryant Quinn

Jane Bryant Quinn is a personal finance expert for AARP.

En español | Q: My husband and I are wondering when would be the best time to collect our Social Security benefits.

A: I get lots of questions like this. The answer differs for every couple, depending on their ages and the size of their potential benefits. Sometimes one of you should take retirement a year or two early so that the other can claim spousal benefits on that account. Sometimes it's better to wait. These services can provide the answers you need. SocialSecuritySolutions.com charges $20 for a report showing the best time to claim benefits based on the life expectancy you set; it costs $50 if you want to be able to play with various retirement assumptions and $125 for one-on-one advice. SocialSecurityChoices.com charges $39.99 for a claiming strategy based on three projected lifetimes. The services' recommendations differ a little bit because of the math involved, but both are sound. AARP's free Social Security Calculator can also help you determine your best age to claim benefits.

Q: Our disabled son's inheritance will go into a special-needs trust. Can I use a codicil form from the Internet to change the trustee?

A: Please don't! If the codicil's wording — or the way you fill in the names or sign the document — doesn't conform exactly to your state's law, a court might not accept it. Your son's welfare is too important to leave to boilerplate.

Q: How are individual retirement accounts divided among heirs? Can I leave my stocks to one child, my bonds to another and my CDs to a third?

A: Yes, you can divide your children's inheritance in this way, says IRA expert James Lange of the Lange Financial Group in Pittsburgh. But do you really want to? The person who inherits the stocks might wind up much richer than the person who gets the CDs (or much poorer, if the market collapses). You might leave anger or envy behind. And what if you want to sell some stocks and reinvest in CDs? You'd be favoring one child over another. Instead, leave the total value of the IRA in percentages — say, divided into thirds. The trustee will split the assets according to the percentages you decree.

Jane Bryant Quinn is a personal finance expert and author of Making the Most of Your Money NOW.

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