Social Security Survivor Benefits: What You Need to Know

What are Social Security Survivor Benefits?

If a Social Security beneficiary dies, his or her surviving spouse or children are eligible for survivor benefits. If you’re the surviving spouse and are retirement age or older, you can receive 100% of your spouse’s benefit. If you were already receiving spousal benefits, Social Security automatically switches your benefits to survivor status once the death is reported. Otherwise, it requires proactive steps on your part. Here is what you need to know about Social Security Survivor benefits.

Who is Eligible to Receive Survivor Benefits?

In general, these are the eligibility rules. It’s important to contact Social Security directly to clarify any questions you have.

Widow or Widower

  • At age 60 or older you’re, eligible for survivor benefits
  • If disabled, benefits can begin at age 50
  • If you take care of a child of the deceased, benefits can begin at any age. The child of the deceased must be disabled or under the age of 16.
  • You must have been married to the deceased for at least nine months at the time of death. However, this requirement is waived if the deceased was in the US military. The death must have been accidental or in the line of duty.

Divorced Widows and Widowers

  • If the marriage lasted at least ten years, benefits could begin at age 60
  • If you’re disabled and the marriage lasted at least ten years, benefits can begin at age 50
  • If you’re taking care of a child under the age of 16 or the child is disabled, benefits can begin at any age.

Unmarried Children

  • Unmarried children under the age of 19 can receive benefits
  • Any child permanently disabled before the age of 22 is eligible
  • Under exceptional circumstances, adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and step-grandchildren may receive benefits.

Dependent Parents

  • Parents 62 years of age or older, if they received at least half of their income from the deceased, are eligible for benefits.

How Much Will You Receive?

Survivor benefits are based on the amount the deceased was collecting or was eligible to receive at the time of death. If you’ve reached full retirement age, you’re entitled to 100% of your spouse’s social security benefits.

If you file a claim between age 60 and full retirement age, you’ll receive between 71.5% and 99% of the amount the deceased was collecting. Similar to routine social security, the longer you wait to collect, the larger the payout.

If you make a claim based on caring for a disabled child under the age of 16, you can apply at any age and receive 75% of your late spouse’s benefit.

Can You Receive Social Security Survivor Benefit and Your Regular Social Security?

No, you will receive one or the other. Social Security will pay whichever benefit is higher.

What Happens if You Remarry?

If you remarry after age 60, you will not receive Social Security survivor benefits. If you’re disabled, you can remarry at age 50 or older and not lose your benefits.

How Long Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Last?

If you’re a surviving spouse or divorced spouse, survivor benefits last for life. However, if you begin collecting social security benefits from your employment, and that amount is higher, you’ll receive only your benefits.

If you qualify because you care for a child under 16 or the child is disabled, survivor benefits end once the child is no longer in your care.

How to Apply for Social Security Survivor Benefits

You cannot apply online.

The beneficiary’s death must be reported to the Social Security Administration by telephone or by visiting your local Social Security office.

Final Note

Government programs are routinely revised. Please contact your local Social Security Administration office to learn about any changes in eligibility and filing requirements.