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Ask the Expert: Applying for a late ex-husband's benefit

I'll retire this month at age 64. My ex-husband recently passed away. We were married for more than 10 years, and I haven't remarried. Am I entitled to apply for his Social Security and delay applying for mine? My benefit will be higher than his.

You've clearly studied the rules. A divorced person can indeed qualify to collect Social Security based on a former's spouse's work record and later switch to his/her own benefit — and it sounds as if you meet the eligibility requirements.

Let's review the rules for other readers.

You qualify to collect Social Security as your late ex's surviving former spouse if: 1) your marriage lasted at least 10 years; 2) you haven't remarried; and 3) you're at least 60 years old. If you meet those requirements, you can take your survivor benefit before reaching your full retirement age while postponing your own benefit, which you can switch to at a future date. (By contrast, if you apply before full retirement age for a benefit based on a living spouse or ex's record, you can't postpone your own. You must apply for both benefits at the same time; and you get the bigger amount.)

The maximum survivor's benefit is 100 percent of the amount your late spouse or late ex-spouse qualified to collect at his/her death. But to get the maximum, you must delay your application until your full retirement age. If you apply as a survivor at 64, you'll receive 90.5 percent of his benefit. You can switch to your own benefit at any time. If you wait until you turn 70, you'll earn enough delayed retirement credits to boost your own benefit check by 32 percent.

The bottom line

People who are divorced sometimes qualify for Social Security based on their ex-spouses' work record.

More information

ssa.gov/planners/survivors/ifyou.html

ssa.gov/planners/retire/1943-delay.html

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