Social Security Survivor Benefits

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Social Security provides survivor benefits for wage earners. Survivor benefits are essentially "life insurance" to help provide financial stability for a family devastated by the death of a wage earner.

A “survivor” is a family member who is alive at the time of the wage earner’s death.  However, some jurisdictions have made provisions allowing for coverage of children born posthumously through in vitro fertilization, which is becoming more common. 

Who Qualifies for Survivor Benefits?

When the family wage earner dies, some members of the wage earner's family may qualify for survivor benefits. These family members include:

I Am Entitled to Survivor Benefits. How Much Money Will I Receive?

The more Social Security credits a deceased person earned will dictate how much you receive.  A wage earner earns a credit for a stated amount of wages, and can earn up to 4 credits a year.  Usually a person needs 40 credits (10 years) for their survivors to become eligible for benefits; fewer credits are needed the younger the wage earner is. 

The annual earnings statement sent out by the Social Security Administration will give an estimate of the survivor benefits. Generally the deceased's benefit amount is as follows:

Widows and widowers under the retirement age, and who work, may have their survivor benefits reduced. A family cannot receive more than 150-180% of the deceased's benefit amount.

What Is the One Time Death Payment?

Under certain circumstances, you or your minor children may receive a one-time payment of $250 upon the death of your spouse. An attorney experienced in Social Security benefits can determine if you qualify.

How Do I Apply for Survivor Benefits?

Because benefits are paid to survivors from the date of the application, as opposed to the date the person died, it is critical the claim is filed quickly. When applying for benefits you will need to provide information including: a death certificate, marriage certificate, and the social security numbers of the deceased and beneficiaries.

In some cases you may need to hire a lawyer for assistance with survivor benefits.  For example, you may wish to appeal your claim if it was rejected or if payments have stopped.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

The laws that regulate Social Security are complex and can be very confusing. An attorney experienced with Social Security benefits can determine if you qualify for survivor benefits. A lawyer may assist you in preparing your claim so that you and your family receive all the benefits you are entitled to.

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Last Modified: 02-27-2012 01:43 PM PST

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