Implementing Your Special Strategy
We have found that many clients have encountered problems when attempting to use little-known but perfectly legal strategies like filing a restricted application for "free spousal" benefits. The problem is that some strategies are little known not only by the general public but also by Social Security representatives. When confronted with a request to use a little-known strategy, an all-to-common response by Social Security representatives is some version of: "Sorry, but you can't do that."
If your spouse has suspended their own retirement benefits, you may not be eligible for the restricted application option. The key is when they suspended their benefits. If your spouse suspended benefits before April 30, 2016, the restricted application option is available to you. If the suspension occurred on or after April 30, 2016 it is not available to you. See FAQ #4 on this page.
In recent years, it has become easier to implement this strategy when filing online. However, if you choose to file in person, take this information to your local Social Security office when you apply for benefits. If you encounter stiff resistance from the Social Security representative who is handling your application, ask to speak with a "technical expert" or the office manager. In other words, be persistent. Don't let a poorly trained Social Security representative stand in your way of getting the benefits you deserve.
Finally, when applying for benefits you should inquire about your eligibility for retroactive benefits and how they might impact your monthly benefit amount. You may qualify for a substantial lump-sum payment, especially if you are applying after your full retirement age. The Social Security Handbook discusses retroactive benefits here and here.