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AARP Bulletin

Top 25 Social Security Questions

Confused about when to claim or whether you're eligible for benefits? We have answers

6. My friend died at 66. She worked full time and had not applied for benefits. What happens to the money she contributed to Social Security? Can her children claim benefits?

The money people contribute goes into a fund from which benefits are paid to eligible workers and their families. These include a widower, a surviving divorced husband, dependent parents, disabled children, and children if they have not aged out.

7. My husband and I are getting a divorce. He wants the settlement agreement to say I will not get his Social Security benefits. Can he do that?

No, he has no control over your future benefits. You can qualify for a divorced spouse's benefits if you were married at least 10 years, are now unmarried, are 62 or older, and if any benefit from your own work record would be less than the divorced spouse's benefit.

8. Cleaning out my mother's home after her death, we found Social Security checks from the 1980s. Can we cash them?

No. The checks are negotiable for only 12 months after issue.

9. My man and I have lived together for over seven years. If he dies, can I collect his Social Security benefits?

If your state recognizes your common-law marriage, then you'll likely be eligible for survivor benefits. But you'll have to provide evidence that includes sworn statements, mortgage or rent receipts, or insurance policies.

10. Do my Social Security contributions go into a personal retirement account for me and earn interest?

Although many people think so, the answer is no. Social Security operates under a pay-as-you-go system, which means that today's workers pay for current retirees and other beneficiaries. Workers pay 6.2 percent of their wages up to a cap of $106,800; employers pay the same. The money that younger people contribute will pay for our benefits when we retire.

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