Social Security Benefits Your Survivors

Social Security is about more than just retirement. It can also provide much-needed income to your family members when you die.

Survivor’s Benefits

When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible to receive survivor’s benefits (based on your earnings record) if you worked, paid Social Security taxes and earned enough work credits. The number of credits you need depends on your age when you die.

Survivor’s benefits may be paid to:

  • Your spouse age 60 or older (50 or older if disabled)
  • Your spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled
  • Your ex-spouse age 60 or over (50 or older if disabled) who was married to you for at least 10 years
  • You ex-spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under 16 or disabled
  • Your unmarried children under 18
  • Your unmarried children under 19, if attending school full-time (up to grade 12)
  • Your dependent parents age 62 or older

How much will your survivors receive?

An eligible family member will receive a monthly survivor’s benefit based on your average lifetime earnings. The benefit is equal to a percentage of your basic Social Security benefit; depending on your survivor’s age and relationship to you.

A maximum family benefit rate caps the total amount your survivors can receive each month. If the total family benefit exceeds this limit, each family member’s benefit will be reduced proportionately.

Lump-Sum Benefit

If you’ve accumulated enough work credit, your spouse may receive a lump-sum benefit of $255. Your spouse must have been living with you at the time of your death or have been receiving benefits based on your earnings record if living apart from you. If you’re not married at the time of your death, the death benefit may be split among any children you have who are eligible for benefits.

If a loved one has died, contact the Social Security Administration immediately

If you’re already receiving benefits based on your spouse’s earnings record, the SSA will change your payments to survivor’s benefits (if your children are receiving benefits, their benefits will be changed too). If you’re not yet receiving Social Security benefits or if you’re receiving benefits based on your own earnings record, you’ll have to fill out an application for survivor’s benefits.

It’s helpful to have the following documents when you apply, but if you don’t have all the information required, the SSA can help you get it:

  • Proof of death (a death certificate or funeral home notice)
  • Your Social Security number, as well as the deceased’s
  • Your birth certificate
  • Your marriage certificate, if you’re a widow or widower
  • Your divorce papers, if applicable
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers, if available
  • Deceased’s W-2 forms, or federal self-employment tax return, for the most recent year
  • The name of your bank, and account numbers for direct deposit

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

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