Social Security Survivor Benefits

Why you should get Social Security survivors insurance

Losing a wage earner in the family can be emotionally and financially detrimental to those involved. Social Security will provide income to help relieve the financial burden of missing the disease members income. 98% of children could get money from Social Security when a parent dies.

What you need to know about survivor benefits if you are working

Social Security “Life Insurance”

Contrary to popular belief, Social Security is not only a retirement program. Part of the taxes that you pay go to providing survivor benefits to those who lose family wage earners. The value of your Social Security life insurance is usually greater than that of your personal life insurance.  Widow, widowers, children, and dependent parents are all eligible for survivors benefits when a death occurs.

How to earn survivors insurance

As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn
credits toward your Social Security benefits. The number
of years you need to work for your family to be eligible
for Social Security survivors benefits depends on your age
when you die. The younger you are, the fewer years you
need to work. But no one needs more than 10 years of work
to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.
Under a special rule, if you have worked for only one
and one-half years in the three years just before your death,
benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who
is caring for the children.

Who is eligible for survivors benefits based on your work?
  • Widow or widower may receive full benefits based on your work if they are of full retirement age. The full retirement age for survivors is 66.  For more information on widow/ widower survivors, click here. If there is a child, under 16, receiving benefits the widow or widower is eligible for benefits at any age.
  • Your unmarried children, under the age of 18. If your child is disabled they are able to receive benefits till the age of 22. In some circumstances, benefits could be available to stepchildren, grandchildren, stepgrandchildren, or adopted children.
  • Your dependent parents could be eligible for benefits if they are 62 or older.
Benefits for surviving divorced spouses

If you have been divorced, your former wife or husband who is age 60 or older can get benefits if you marriage lasted at least 10 years. Benefits paid to you as a divorced spouse, however, does not have to meet the age or length of marriage rule if he or she is caring for his/her child who is younger than age 16 or who is disabled and also entitled based on your work. The child must be your former spouse’s
natural or legally adopted child. Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse who meets the age or disability requirement as a widow or widower won’t affect the benefit rates for other survivors
getting benefits on the worker’s record. However, if you are the surviving divorced mother or father who has the worker’s child under age 16 or disabled in your care, your benefit will affect the amount of the benefits of others on the worker’s record.

How you sign up for survivors benefits depends on whether or not you are getting other Social Security benefits at the time you apply.

If You Already Get Benefits

If you are getting benefits on your spouse’s or parent’s record when he or she dies, you should report the death to us. Call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can also call or visit your local Social Security office.

  • We’ll automatically change any monthly benefits to survivor benefits after the death is reported to us.
  • We may be able to pay the Special Lump Sum Death Benefit automatically.

If you are getting retirement or disability benefits on your own record, you will need to apply for the survivor benefits. Call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can also call or visit your local Social Security office. We will check to see whether you can get a higher benefit as a widow or widower.

Important: If you want to apply in person, please call and make an appointment before

If you are not getting benefits

If you are not getting benefits, you should apply for survivor benefits promptly because, in some cases, benefits may not be retroactive. You can:

  • Call our toll-free telephone number 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call us at TTY 1-800-325-0778.
  • Call or visit your local Social Security office.

    Important: If you want to apply in person, please call and make an appointment before you visit your local office.

When you apply, please be ready to supply the information we need to approve your application for:

  • The Lump-Sum Death Benefit,
  • Widows, Widowers, Or Surviving Divorced Spouse Benefits,
  • Mother’s Or Father’s Benefits, (You must be caring for a dependent child of the deceased,)
  • Dependent Child,
  • Parent’s Benefits (You must have been dependent on the worker for 1/2 of your support at the time of his or her death.)

You  may need to present the following documents:

  • Proof of death (either from funeral home or death certificate);
  • Your Social Security number, and the deceased family member’s number;
  • Your birth certificate;
  • Your marriage certificate if you are the widow or widower;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were born outside the United States;
  • Your divorce papers if you are applying as a surviving divorced spouse;
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers and birth certificates, if available;
  • Deceased worker’s most recent W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return;
  • The name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be directly deposited into your account.

    Note: If you do not have a bank account, you can sign up for the Direct Express® card program. With the Direct Express® program, your federal benefit payment will be directly deposited into your card account.


Social Security Debit Card

As of March 1, 2013, the United States Department of the Treasury requires all federal government benefit payments to be made by electronic payments. This includes Social Security benefits. You can either have your benefit payments direct deposited into your account, or you can have it automatically deposited into your Direct Deposit Debit Card Account (Social Security Debit Card Account). In addition, when you sign up to receive your Social Security,  Supplemental Security Income, VA or other federal benefits, you can select the  Direct Express debit card and have your money automatically deposited to your card account on your payment date. Here is how to sign up for the Social Security Debit Card.

"Social Security Debit Card"

Social Security Debit Card Application

Signing up is easy. All you have to do is to call the U.S. Treasury Electronic Payment Solution Center at (800) 333-1795 (toll free) and tell them you want to sign up for the Direct Express Debit MasterCard. No bank account or credit check is required to enroll. There are no sign-up fees or monthly account fees. Many other card services are free. Additional information about the card is available at their website which you can visit at Here is the information you will need to provide when you call:

  • 12-digit federal benefit check number
  • Amount of most recent federal benefit check

The image below show you how to retrieve that information on your Social Security Benefits Check.

"Social Security Debit Card Application"

How Does it Work?

The Social Security Debit MasterCard functions like a regular bank debit card. You can use it to make purchases at stores that accept Debit MasterCard, like grocery, pharmacy, gas stations, restaurants, hotels etc. You can also use it to pay bills, purchase money orders from the U.S. Post Office and get cash from an ATM or financial institution that displays the MasterCard acceptance mark. Here is a short video that explains in details what you can do with your card and the security and other benefits you get from using it.

Social Security Debit Card Customer Service Information

If you would like to reach the Direct Express customer service and support team, here are the numbers to call: To sign up for the Direct Express card, please contact the enrollment center between the hours of 7:00 AM CST to 7:00 PM CST Monday through Friday. The Card Enrollment Center can be reached toll free at: 1-800-333-1795.

If you already have a card and have questions for customer service, you can reach them toll free at: 1-888-741-1115 — Hearing impaired: 1-866-569-0447 — International: 1-765-778-6290 (Collect). They are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Here are some of the issues they can help you with:

  • Reporting lost or stolen cards
  • Balance inquiries
  • PIN changes
  • Transaction history requests
  • Registering a complaint about a card issue
  • Questions about card usage
  • Questions about international card usage

We hope this review has been helpful to you. If you are currently getting benefits by check, you are out of compliance and need to sign up either for direct deposit into your bank account or get a Direct Express card. If you don’t do anything, the United States Treasury Department will switch you from getting checks in the mail to the Direct Express Card.

How Social Security Works

Social Security is a safety net established for the elderly and disabled Americans in 1935 under the Social Security Act. The program is funded from contributions by American workers with the security of having benefits when working is no longer an option. The benefits that the retired or disabled workers initially receive are based on their personal earning history.

How Social Security Works

There are 3 things that are important to understand about social security

  • How to become eligible – you need 40 credits or about 10 years of work.
  • How to calculate the amount of money that you will receive – your benefit is based on your earnings. If you are a low income earner, you will receive a much higher percentage of your income than a higher wage earner.
  • When you can start drawing on the money – The full retirement age varies (see figure below). If you have a retirement age of 66 then you would be able to start drawing on your social security with a 25% penalty at age 62. In addition, if you choose to delay collecting each year, up to age 70, your benefits are increased by 8%.
If you were born in … Your full retirement age is …
1937 or earlier 65
1938 65 and 2 months
1939 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 10 months
1943-1954 66
1955 66 and 2 months
1956 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 10 months
1960 or later 67



How to Apply for Social Security Benefits

When applying for social security benefits bring the appropriate information for your application to be approved. This includes information on:

applying for social security benefits

If you are applying for Retirement or Medicare:

Information about you

  • Your date and place of birth and Social Security number;
  • The name, Social Security number and date of birth or age of your current spouse and any former spouse. You should also know the dates and places of marriage and dates of divorce or death (if appropriate);
  • The names of any unmarried children under 18, 18-19 and in secondary school or disabled before age 22;
  • Your bank or other financial institution’s Routing Transit Number and the account number.
  • Your citizenship status;
  • Whether you or anyone else has ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare or Supplemental Security Income on your behalf (if so, we will also ask for information on whose Social Security record you applied);
  • Whether you have used any other Social Security number;
  • If you are applying for retirement benefits, the month you want your benefits to begin; and
  • If you are within 3 months of age 65, whether you want to enroll in Medical Insurance (Part B of Medicare).

Information about work

  • The name and address of your employer(s) for this year and last year;
  • The amount of money earned last year and this year. If you are filing for benefits in the months of September through December, you will also need to estimate next year’s earnings;
  • A copy of your Social Security Statement or a record of your earnings. If you do not have a Statement, you can view your Social Security Statement online by creating an account and signing in with us. Even if you do not have a record of your earnings or you are not sure if they are correct, please fill out the application. We will help you review your earnings when you apply;
  • The beginning and ending dates of any active U.S. military service you had before 1968;
  • Whether you became unable to work because of illnesses, injuries or conditions at any time within the past 14 months. If “Yes,” we will also ask the date you became unable to work;
  • Whether you or your spouse have ever worked for the railroad industry;
  • Whether you have earned Social Security credits under another country’s social security system; and
  • Whether you qualified for or expect to receive a pension or annuity based on your own employment with the Federal government of the United States or one of its States or local subdivisions.

Documents to bring with you

  • your original birth certificate or other proof of birth [more info] (You may also submit a copy of your birth certificate certified by the issuing agency);
  • proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States [more info];
  • a copy of your U.S. military service paper(s) (e.g., DD-214 – Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty) if you had military service before 1968; [more info]; and
  • a copy of your W-2 form(s) [more info] and/or self-employment tax return [more info] for last year.

If you are a Spouse or Divorced Spouse

You may be asked to provide any of the following documents to show that you are eligible

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States [More Info];
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year.
  • Final divorce decree, if applying as a divorced spouse; and
  • Marriage certificate.

If you are a child

  • Your birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States [More Info];
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s); and
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year.

Apply for social security benefits

You Can Apply For Social Security

Online – Fill out the Social Security Retirement/Medicare Benefit Application to apply for retirement, spouse’s, ex-spouse’s or Medicare benefits.

By phone – Call 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call TTY 1-800-325-0778.

In personCall to make an appointment and visit your local Social Security office.

If you do not live in the U.S. or one of its territories you can contact the nearest U.S. Social Security office, U.S. Embassy or consulate.