Social Security Survivor Benefits

| February 17, 2015

Mike's Blog

What happens if my spouse dies?

Social Security is not just for retirement income but also includes benefits to survivors. For example, you may be eligible for benefits if your wage-earner spouse died and you have young children. Fortunately, Social Security provides income to your family when you die, easing things financially. That’s IF you are aware of the rules! If your spouse has recently passed on, or if you have a friend who’s spouse passed on, make sure you read this…

Benefits based on your work record

When you die, your family may be able to get survivor benefits based on your earnings record and work credits. The number of credits you need depends on your age when you die. The younger you are, the fewer credits you'll need for survivor's benefits. However, no one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be "fully insured" for benefits. And under a special rule, if you're only "currently insured" at the time of your death (i.e., you have 6 credits in the 13 quarters prior to your death), your children and your spouse caring for them can still receive benefits.

Those eligible for Survivor benefits include:

  • 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
  • Your ex-spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under age 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

Keep in mind, this is just an overview, the rules are much more complex. If you have questions about eligibility, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) at (800) 772-1213.

How much will your survivors receive?

An eligible family member will receive a monthly survivor benefit based on your average lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings, the higher the benefit. This monthly benefit is equal to a percentage of your basic Social Security benefit. The percentage depends on your survivor's age and relationship to you.

You can get an estimate of what your survivors might receive using one of the benefit calculators available at the Social Security website at

There’s a lump-sum benefit?

If you have enough work credits, your surviving spouse may get a lump-sum of $255!!! It’s not quite the Lotto, but every little bit helps! Who says the government isn’t about change!

Now to get this lump sum, your spouse must be living with you at the time of your death or receiving benefits off of your work record if not living together. If you're not married at death, you can split the lump sum among your children who are eligible for benefits based on your work record.

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

If a loved one has died and you think you are eligible for survivor benefits, contact the SSA right away. 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). But if you're not yet receiving any 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 worker's number
  • 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 worker's W-2 forms, or federal self-employment tax return, for the most recent year
  • The name of your bank, as well as your account numbers, for direct deposit

Visit your local SSA office or call (800) 772-1213 for more information on survivor's benefits and how to apply for them.

The content is developed from sources believed to be providing accurate information. The information in this material is not intended as tax or legal advice. It may not be used for the purpose of avoiding any federal tax penalties. Please consult legal or tax professionals for specific information regarding your individual situation. The opinions expressed and material provided are for general information, and should not be considered a solicitation for the purchase or sale of any security.