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Ask the Expert: Can widower apply for increased Social Security benefit?

A 75-year-old man took Social Security at age 62.  His 74-year-old wife reached full retirement age at 66, but didn't take her benefit until 70. Her benefit is now slightly more than his. If she should predecease him, is he eligible to apply for the increased amount?

Yes. A widower or a widow is entitled to the larger of two amounts: his/her own benefit or his/her deceased spouse's benefit.

Here's an example based on your situation:

John took Social Security at 62. His benefit is therefore permanently smaller than if he had taken it at his full retirement age. (Like all Social Security recipients, he receives annual cost-of-living increases, but his monthly check will always be smaller than if he'd waited until his full retirement age to start collecting it.) Let's say his reduced benefit is $1,800 a month.

His wife, Linda, applies for her benefit when she's 70 years old — four years after reaching her full retirement age. During each of those four years, her benefit grew 8 percent in Delayed Retirement Credits (DRCs). Let's say she receives $2,000 a month.

As her survivor, John will be entitled to the larger of their two benefit amounts. He'll get his own $1,800 benefit plus $200 from Linda's benefit.

(One caveat for other readers: A surviving spouse is eligible to receive a widower or widow's benefit as early as age 60; but to receive the maximum amount, he or she must wait until full retirement age to apply for it. In this example, we know John will be entitled to an amount equal to Linda's benefit because he'll be over his full retirement age when he applies for it.)

The bottom line

When one spouse dies, his or her survivor spouse is entitled to the larger of their Social Security benefits.

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