Q: My sister told me that if my Social Security check is ever lost or stolen, the government would not replace it. Is this true? That certainly doesn't seem fair.
A: Almost everybody receives his or her Social Security benefits by direct deposit, and the huge advantage to direct deposit is that there is no "check" to get lost or stolen. With direct deposit, your Social Security funds are automatically transferred from the government's coffers to your bank account.
But if you are one of the few people who still gets his or her monthly Social Security benefits via a paper check, and if that check is lost or stolen, it will eventually be replaced. It's just that you'll have to jump through a few bureaucratic hoops and wait several weeks to make that happen. The government will replace a lost or stolen Social Security check once it verifies that you did not endorse and cash the first check that was issued.
You'd be surprised by the number of people who report they never received their Social Security check and then are later embarrassed to learn that they did indeed sign and cash the check.
Q: Can I turn over my Social Security checks to my grandkids? I don't need the money, but they sure could use it. Someone at my local bank told me that I could not do this.
A: It's your money and you can do whatever you want with it. Perhaps your bank representative thought you wanted to have your Social Security checks issued directly to your grandkids. That you cannot do. But once the money is in your account, you can save it, spend it or give it away.
Q: I am separated from my husband. We have been married for more than 30 years. I'm about to turn 65 and go on Social Security. A neighbor told me that for Social Security purposes, it would be better if I was divorced. She said she read that in your column. Can you please explain that? If it's an issue, you should know that my husband is 63 and he is still working.
A: To begin with, please bear in mind that I am answering this strictly from a Social Security perspective. Of course, you have to consider many other personal and legal ramifications of getting a divorce. Being divorced, as opposed to being married but separated, could be to your advantage only if you are eligible for benefits as a wife on your husband's Social Security account. As a divorced woman, you would collect those benefits even if your husband was not getting Social Security benefits himself. He merely has to be old enough to qualify for Social Security, which he already is. But again, he does not have to apply for his own Social Security in order for you to get benefits as a divorced wife on his record. On the other hand, a currently married woman, even if she is separated, cannot receive benefits as a wife on her husband's Social Security unless he is receiving retirement benefits himself. Finally, you should understand this: If your own Social Security retirement benefit exceeds whatever money you might be due on your husband's record, then you can ignore everything I just wrote. In other words, you wouldn't be due any benefits on his record anyway, so it wouldn't matter if you are separated or divorced.