Social Security

Social Security Survivor Benefits

When a working person or a Social Security recipient dies, certain family members are entitled to apply for the deceased person’s Social Security benefits. These “survivor benefits” are intended to sustain the family when the income provider is lost. 

Who is Entitled to Receive Survivor Benefits? 

The survivors of anyone who worked (and payed into the Social Security system) for at least 1 ½ years in the three years right before their death are qualified to receive survivor benefits.

Surviving Spouse

A surviving spouse may be able to get the full benefits of the deceased spouse when they reach full retirement age. Full retirement age depends on the year you were born. A surviving spouse who was born between 1945 and 1956 reaches full retirement age at 66. After birth year 1956, the age for full retirement benefits increases gradually – 1957 (66 and 2 mo.), 1959 (66 and 6 mo.), 1961 (66 and 10 mo.). For those born in 1962 and thereafter, full retirement age will be age 67. A surviving spouse can get reduced benefits as early as age 60.

A surviving spouse who is disabled can start getting survivors’ benefits at age 50. A surviving spouse who is caring for the minor or disabled children of the deceased can get benefits at any age.

Unmarried Children of the Deceased

Children under the age of 18 are entitled to receive survivors’ benefits. That age increases to age 19 if the child is still enrolled in high school. If a child was disabled before the age of 22, that child is also entitled to benefits - age is irrelevant. Disabled children may also collect SSI (Supplemental Social Security) if their parents have financial need. In some circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren, and adopted children are also eligible.

Dependent Parents

Dependent parents over the age of 62 can also collect survivors’ benefits if they are dependent on their deceased child for at least half of their support.

Are There Benefits for Surviving Divorced Spouses? 

Under some circumstances, there are benefits for a divorced spouse. First, the marriage must have lasted at least 10 years. Second, the surviving ex-spouse must be at least 60 years old or older (50-59 if the surviving ex-spouse is disabled). Third, the required age and length of marriage do not matter, if the surviving ex-spouse is taking care of the deceased’s children who are under the age of 16. The child must be either the natural child or adopted child of both the deceased and the surviving ex-spouse.

How Much Can a Survivor Expect to Collect in Benefits? 

The amount survivors receive is dependent on the earnings history of the deceased wage earner. Periodically, the Social Security Administration sends wage earners a statement that shows the average of their lifetime earnings and calculates likely future benefits. It is that lifetime average that determines how much a worker will receive when they retire and how much survivors can expect to receive if the worker dies.

The percentage of the worker’s total benefits the survivor may be entitled to collect depends on lifetime earnings, age, employment, and relationship to the deceased. Some examples are listed below:

  • A surviving spouse at full retirement age will get 100% of the worker’s benefit;
  • A surviving spouse who is at least age 60, but who has not reached full retirement age, will get between 71 and 99% of the deceased worker’s benefits. The percentage received will depend on age. The closer to full retirement age, the more benefits received.
  • A surviving spouse of any age who is raising a child common to the parties under the age of 16 gets 75%, or
  • A child receives 75% of the benefits.

Suppose you and your spouse are at full retirement age. You and your spouse both worked throughout most of your adult lives and paid into Social Security. Your spouse dies. You will be required to elect between your own benefits and those of your deceased spouse and will get whichever benefit is larger.

What are Maximum Family Benefits? -  If there are multiple claimants to a deceased worker’s Social Security Survivor benefits, the claims may exceed the Maximum Family Benefit amount. The most SSA will pay on one worker’s benefits is 150-180 % of the total benefit for that worker. Benefits may need to be allocated among survivor claimants.

What if the Surviving Spouse Works? -  If the surviving spouse is younger than full retirement age and is employed, their survivor benefits may be reduced if their earnings exceed agency limits. Those limits tend to change as the cost-of-living increases.

What if the Surviving Spouse Remarries? -  If the surviving spouse remarries before reaching the age of 60 (age 50 for disabled persons), the surviving spouse loses the right to claim survivors’ benefits. If they remarry after the age of 60 (50 for the disabled), benefits continue.

How Do I Apply for Survivors Benefits? 

When someone dies, the funeral home often assumes the responsibility of notifying Social Security of the death. However, you may want to call the agency yourself and ensure they are notified. If you believe you are entitled to survivor benefits, make a claim as soon as practical. You can apply by telephoning your local Social Security office or by making an appointment and doing an in-person application. You will need to supply either originals or certified copies of the following documents:

  • Proof of death (either a document from the funeral home or a death certificate),
  • Your SSN and the SSN of the deceased worker,
  • Your birth certificate,
  • If you are a surviving spouse, a copy of your marriage certificate to the deceased
  • If applying as a divorced spouse, a copy of both your marriage certificate and your divorce decree,
  • If applying for dependent children, copies of their birth certificates and their SSNs,
  • The deceased worker’s W2 forms or tax returns for the year preceding death, and
  • The name of your bank, account number and routing number so that your checks can be automatically deposited.

What If I am Already Getting Benefits on My Spouse's Record? 

If you are already receiving social security benefits based on your spouse’s or parent’s earnings, the Social Security Administration should automatically switch your monthly benefits to survivor benefits once they receive the death report. However, if you are receiving Social Security disability or if you are receiving your own retirement benefits, you will need to apply for the survivor benefit. Social Security will calculate whether you will receive a higher amount with the survivor benefit or if you will be better off retaining your own benefits.

 

For more information about Survivors Benefits, Click Here.

To find your local Social Security Office, Click Here.

 

This website has been prepared for general information purposes only. The information on this website is not legal advice. Legal advice is dependent upon the specific circumstances of each situation. Also, the law may vary from state-to-state or county-to-county, so that some information in this website may not be correct for your situation. Finally, the information contained on this website is not guaranteed to be up to date. Therefore, the information contained in this website cannot replace the advice of competent legal counsel licensed in your jurisdiction.

Search