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Don't Wait to Claim Social Security Survivor's Benefits

Updated: Mar 18, 2019



Social Security survivor's benefits can provide much-needed income to you and your family after losing your spouse. It’s important you understand who and how you might qualify and what those benefits are.


Who is Eligible?


Knowing the decedent’s insured status and earnings record at time of death is essential to determining who will be eligible and how much you will receive from Social Security survivor benefits. If your spouse was fully insured, meaning that he had 40 Social Security credits (quarters of coverage) at the time of death, more survivors may be eligible for benefits than if he was only currently insured (having 6 credits during the last 13 quarters prior to his death).


If he was fully insured at the time of death, benefits may be paid to the following family members:

  • Spouse

  • Divorced spouse

  • Dependent child or children

  • Dependent parents

If he was currently insured at the time of death, benefits may be paid to these family members only:

  • Spouse (only if caring for a dependent child)

  • Divorced spouse (only if caring for a dependent child)

  • Your dependent child or children

What benefits will you receive?


Eligible surviving family members will receive a monthly benefit based on your spouse’s primary insurance amount (PIA) unless you are eligible for a greater benefit based on your own PIA. Survivor's benefits are expressed as a percentage of his PIA. Basically, the more your spouse paid into Social Security, the greater your benefits will be.


One of the most common scenarios is when both the decedent and surviving spouse have reached full retirement age (FRA). In this situation, you would receive the greater of your social security benefit or the deceased’s benefit.


However, if you have not yet reached full retirement age at the time of his death, you will receive a reduced benefit, generally 71.5 to 94 percent of PIA (75 percent if you are caring for a child under age 16). Your dependent child may also receive 75 percent of PIA.

Finally, upon his death you will likely receive a $255 lump-sum death benefit. If there was no surviving spouse, the death benefit would be split among your children who are eligible for benefits based on his PIA. In the event there are no surviving spouse or children, the benefit will not be paid.


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


If a loved one has died and you are eligible for survivor benefits, you should 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 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 benefits.

It's helpful to have the following documents when you apply:

  • Proof of death (death certificate)

  • Your Social Security number, as well as the deceased'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 the SSA website or your local SSA office or call (800) 772-1213 for more information on survivor benefits and how to apply for them.

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