Social Security is a program which uses public funds to provide economic security to millions of Americans who qualify. In the United States, both employers and employees (totaling over 160 million Americans) pay Social Security taxes. The money raised through these taxes are used primarily to benefit Americans who have reached the age of retirement or are otherwise eligible.

Social Security Survivor Benefits

Upon the death of an insured, working person, certain family members become eligible for what’s known as Social Security survivor benefits.

Who Qualifies for Survivor Benefits?

In general, the following people can receive survivor benefits:

  • Widows and widowers: they can receive benefits at age 60 or older or at age 50 or older if disabled so long as the couple had been married for at least 9 months. The length of marriage requirement is waived for a widow or widower who takes care of the decedent’s child and the child is age 16 or younger or disabled.
    • The deceased spouse must have been “fully insured” at the time of death, meaning the decedent had 40 work credits or 10 years’ worth of work.
  • Divorced widow or widower: they can also receive benefits if he or she is age 60 or older and the marriage to the decedent lasted at least 10 years. The ex-spouse can also receive benefits at age 50 or older if she or he is disabled and the marriage lasted at least 10 years. The length of marriage requirement is waived for an ex-spouse who takes care of the decedent’s child and the child is age 16 or younger or disabled.
  • Unmarried children of the decedent: can receive benefits if they are younger than 18 (or up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time). The age requirement is waived if the child is disabled and became disabled before age 22.
  • Parents who are age 62 or older: who received at least one-half support from the decedent (so that they were considered dependent on the decedent) can also receive social security benefits.

How Much Can You Get?

How much one’s family receives in benefits depends on the decedent’s average lifetime earnings. If the decedent received higher earnings, the higher their benefits would be. Below are a couple examples of how much your family can receive if you die but reached the age of retirement.

  • Widow or widower who is the full retirement age or older can receive 100% of your benefit amount;
  • Widow or widower who is age 60 to full retirement age can receive anywhere between 71.5% to 99% of your amount;
  • Disabled widow or widower who is age 50 through 59 can receive 71.5%;
  • Children under age 18 or age 19 if still in elementary or secondary school can receive 75%;
  • Dependent parents who are 62 years old or older can receive between 75% to 82.5%.

Are There Limits on Who Can Receive the Benefits?

The short answer is “yes.” Typically there is a limit to the amount family members can receive per month through social security benefits. While the limit varies, it’s typically about 150 to 180 percent of the basic benefit rate.

How Can I Apply for Social Security Survivor Benefits?

The first step is to notify the Social Security Administration. You can aall the Social Security Administration office at (800) 772-1213 or your local Social Security office if you need to report a death. You cannot report the death or apply for survivor benefits online. Most of the time, the funeral home will report the death to Social Security for you, but you will need to give the funeral director the decedent’s social security number.
You will also need to schedule an appointment with the Social Security Administration. The following information and documentation should be gathered before your appointment.

  • Your birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate if you are the spouse or widow/widower
  • Divorce certificate if you are the divorced widow/widower
  • Birth certificate and Social Security number of the decedent’s children
  • Most recent W-2 forms of the deceased worker
  • Bank account and routing number if you want the funds to be direct deposited into your personal account.

Do I Need a Lawyer?

When a loved one passes away, there are so many things you have to worry about while you are grieving. If you are having trouble accessing your social security survivor benefits, then a government lawyer with experience with navigating the Social Security Administration can help you get the benefits you need.