Social Security Benefits
Understanding Survivor’s Benefits
Social Security Administration
Social Security Survivor’s Insurance
The loss of the family wage earner can be devastating, both emotionally and financially. Social Security helps by providing income for the families of workers who die. In fact, 98 of every 100 children could get benefits if a working parent dies. Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other federal program.
Many people think of Social Security only as a retirement program. But some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward providing survivor’s insurance for workers and their families. In fact, the value of the survivor’s insurance you have under Social Security is probably more than the value of your individual life insurance.
When a person dies, certain members of their family may be eligible for survivor’s benefits. These include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children, and dependents’ parents.
How does a person earn survivor’s insurance?
As a person works and pays Social Security taxes, they earn credits toward Social Security benefits. The number of years a person needs to work for their family to be eligible for Social Security Survivor’s benefits depends on their age and when they die. The younger a person is, the fewer years he or she needs to work. But no one needs more than ten years of work to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.
Under a special rule, if the deceased had worked only one and a half years in the three years just before his or her death, benefits can be paid to his or her children and spouse who is caring for the deceased’s children.
Who can get survivor’s benefits?
The widow or widower of the deceased may be able to receive full benefits at age 65 if born before 1940. (The age to receive full benefits is gradually increasing to age 67 for widows and widowers born in 1940 or later.) Reduced widow or widower benefits can be received as early as age 60. If a surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.
A widow or widower can receive benefits at any age if she or he takes care of a child who is entitled to a child’s benefit and is younger than age 16 or disabled.
Unmarried children who are under the age of 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time) can also receive benefits. Children can receive benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits also can be paid to your stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children.
Dependent parents can receive benefits if they are age 62 or older. (For parents to qualify as dependents, the deceased would have had to have provided one-half of their support.)
Benefits for surviving divorced spouses
If the deceased has been divorced, the former wife or husband who is age 60 or older (50-60 if disabled) can get benefits if the marriage lasted at least ten years. The former spouse, however, does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for the deceased’s child who is under the age of 16 or who is disabled and also entitled based on the deceased’s work. The child must be the deceased’s natural or legally adopted child.
Survivor’s benefits paid to a divorced spouse will not affect the benefit rates for other survivors getting benefits.
How much are benefits?
How much a family can get from Social Security depends on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased. That means the more a person has earned, the more benefits will be. A Social Security Statement is sent each year to every worker age 25 and older. This statement gives an estimate of survivor’s benefits that could be paid, as well as an estimate of retirement and disability benefits and other important information.
One-time death payment
There is a one-time death payment of $255 that is paid at the time of death if the deceased has worked long enough. This payment is made only to the decedent’s spouse or minor children if they meet certain requirements.
How do I apply for benefits?
You should apply for survivor’s benefits promptly because, in some cases, benefits will be paid from the time you apply and not from the time the worker died.
You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office. The Social Security Administration will need certain information, but advises that you do not delay applying if you do not have all of the documentation they require. SSA requires either original documents or certified copies by the agency that issued them.
The information the Social Security Administration needs includes the following:
-Proof of death—either from a funeral home or death certificate
-Your social security number, as well as the deceased worker’s
social security number
-Your birth certificate
-Your marriage certificate, if you are a widow or widower
-Your divorce papers, if you are applying as a divorced widow or
-Dependent children’s social security numbers, if available; and
-Deceased worker’s W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax
return for the most recent year
-The name of your bank and account number so your benefits
can be directly deposited into your account
If you are already getting Social Security Benefits
If you are getting benefits as a wife or husband based on your spouse’s work, when you report the death to the Social Security Administration, they will then change the payments to survivor’s benefits. If they need more information, they will contact you.
If you are getting benefits based on your own work, contact the Social Security Administration and they will assess your situation to see if you can get more money as a widow or widower. You will receive the higher benefit, not a combination of the two types of benefits. You will need to complete an application to switch to survivor’s benefits, and SSA will need to see your spouse’s death certificate.
How much will I receive?
The benefit amount is based on the earning of the person who died. The more the worker paid into Social Security, the greater the benefits will be.
Social Security uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage survivors are entitled to. The percentage depends on the survivor’s ages and relationship to the worker. Here are the most typical situations:
A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally receives 100 percent of the workers basic benefit amount.
A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives about 71-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount.
A widow or widower, any age, with a child younger than age 16, receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.
Children receive 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount
Maximum Family Benefits
There is a limit to the benefits that can be paid to you and other family members each month. The limit varies, but is generally between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount.
What if I work?
If you work while getting Social Security Survivor’s Benefits and are younger than full retirement age, your benefits may be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits. (The full retirement age was 65 for people born before 1938 but will gradually increase to 67 for people born in 1960 or later.)
There is no earnings limit after you reach full retirement age.
Also, your earnings will reduce only your benefits, not the benefits of other family members.
Social Security Administration
Local Office: 3355 Richmond Road
Cleveland, Ohio 44122