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Ask the Expert: How to apply for Social Security benefits after a divorce

After I turned 66, I started collecting half my ex-husband's Social Security benefit. At 70, I switched to my own higher benefit. After he dies, am I entitled to switch back to his benefit if it's higher than mine?

Yes. Whenever you're eligible to receive more than one Social Security benefit, you receive an amount equal to the largest.

Your situation illustrates the relatively little-known Social Security options available to many people who are divorced: If your marriage lasted more than 10 years and you haven't remarried, you may qualify to receive up to 50 percent of your former spouse’s Social Security benefit, even if he or she has remarried. And after your former spouse dies, you may qualify for a widow's or widower's benefit equal to 100 percent of the amount he or she was collecting — or was entitled to collect — at the time of his or her death.

These benefits have no impact on the amounts that your ex-spouse's current husband or wife, or surviving spouse, is entitled to receive. That’s right: A surviving spouse and a surviving former spouse can both collect a 100 percent widow's or widower's benefit.

Indeed, one rule is a little more lenient for divorced people than for married people: A married person can't apply for a spousal benefit until his or her spouse has filed for Social Security. But a divorced person can apply for a spousal benefit even if his or her ex hasn't yet filed for Social Security, as long as that ex is eligible to do so — i.e., is at least 62 years old or qualifies for a disability benefit.


Even if you’re divorced, you may qualify for Social Security benefits based on your former spouse’s or late former spouse’s record.


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