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.


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