Claiming survivor’s & death benefits


After the death of a spouse, you may be eligible to receive survivor’s benefits and death benefits from government sources, from your spouse’s employer, and from retirement plans.

Social Security survivor’s benefits
If your spouse was self-employed or employed in a job where he or she paid Social Security payroll taxes, you may be eligible to receive Social Security survivor’s benefits. How much you receive depends on your spouse’s lifetime earnings, how many other members of your family are receiving benefits, and what beneficiary category you fit into. Visit for a detailed breakdown of eligibility requirements and circumstances.

Social Security death benefit
If you were living in the same household as your spouse at the time of his or her death and your spouse was fully or currently insured for Social Security benefits, you may be entitled to receive a $255 lump-sum death benefit from the Social Security Administration (SSA) Contact the SSA at (800) 772-1213 or contact your local SSA office for more information or to apply for benefits.

Federal Employees Retirement System (FERS) benefits
If your spouse or ex-spouse was a civilian federal employee covered by FERS, you may be eligible to receive a survivor’s benefit. Benefits can be paid both to survivors or workers who die before retirement and to survivors of retirees (unless the retiree elected not to pay for the survivor annuity). Benefits may be paid in the form of a monthly annuity, a lump-sum cash payment, or both, depending on how long the employee worked for the government and whether he or she was currently or formerly employed at the time of his or her death.

Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) benefits
If your spouse or ex-spouse was covered under CSRS, you may be eligible to receive a survivor’s annuity paid until you die or remarry (unless you remarry after age 55). In general, eligibility requirements are the same as those under FERS, with one exception. While a former spouse of a FERS employee separated from government service may be entitled to a survivor’s annuity even if that employee dies before reaching retirement age, the former spouse of a CSRS employee will not be.

Qualified benefit plans
Your spouse may have contributed to one or more plans designed to provide retirement income. Call his or her employer or plan administrator to ask about what benefits may be payable to you.

Individual Retirement Accounts (IRAs)
If your spouse owned an IRA and named you as a beneficiary, you can take the proceeds as a lump-sum distribution or roll them over to your own IRA. If you elect a lump-sum distribution, you will not owe the normal 10% premature withdrawal penalty tax. However, if the funds come from a traditional IRA, the amount you receive will generally be include in your taxable income. Rolling over the IRA to your own IRA provides flexibility and control. You can name your own beneficiaries, and postpone taking distributions. 

 Prepared by Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc. Copyright 2016.

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