Most people purchase some form of life insurance to offset the risk of loss associated with premature death and to plan for the future of their survivors. Others self-insure by saving or earmarking existing assets, while still others use some combination of life insurance and self-insurance. Another way to provide adequate resources for your survivors is through government benefits.
Social Security survivor benefits
For many, the major source of government benefits will be Social Security. Generally, the survivors who may be entitled to receive these benefits include yourself, a former wife(s), your dependent or disabled children, and possibly your dependent parents. Usually payable in regular monthly installments, these survivor benefits will vary based on your husband’s average lifetime earnings, the recipient(s) of the benefits, and other factors. There are two types of survivor benefits.
If your spouse was “currently” or “fully” insured and you qualify, you may begin collecting monthly survivor benefits. The amount of your benefit is based on the “primary insurance amount” (PIA) which is calculated based on your spouse’s earnings – the amount paid into the Social Security system.
Furthermore, if your spouse was currently or fully insured a one-time lump-sum death benefit of $255 is payable to you or dependent child if age 18 or younger and living with the decedent at the time of death. You must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death. In addition, the death benefit may be payable under other circumstances as well.
While the funeral director usually notifies the Social Security Administration of the death, that notification is not a formal claim for benefits. You should contact your nearest Social Security office as soon as possible to find out if you qualify for these important benefits.
Benefits for federal government employees
If your spouse was a federal government employee, you may be eligible for benefits under either of two retirement systems for federal employees: the Civil Service Retirement System (CSRS) or the Federal Employees' Retirement System (FERS). The benefits, which may be subject to restrictions based on whether your spouse also contributed to Social Security, are generally payable either in a lump sum or in regular installments (known as a survivor annuity). These benefits are payable regardless of whether your spouse died before or after retirement.
Benefits for military personnel
If your spouse was in the military, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. You will want to contact the Department of Veterans Affairs to understand what benefits you may be entitled to, including reimbursement for burial expenses up to $2,000, a headstone or marker, burial flag, burial in a national cemetery and other benefits. A death pension is payable to some survivors of deceased wartime veterans. Whether surviving family members are paid such benefits will depend on a number of factors, including whether the veteran died from causes due to military service, whether he served in peace or war-time, and whether his discharge was honorable or less than honorable.
Railroad survivor benefits
If your spouse was a railroad employee or a retired railroad employee, you may be eligible for one or more railroad survivor benefits. Specifically, the Railroad Retirement Act may provide survivor annuities for you if your spouse completed 10 years of railroad service and had a current connection with the railroad industry at the time of his death. The size of the annuity is based on such factors as age, disability, and whether you are caring for a dependent child. Subject to certain restrictions, other railroad survivor annuities may be payable to your dependent children, grandchildren, and parents.
If your spouse died as a result of a job-related injury or illness, you may be entitled to receive workers' compensation survivor benefits based on his wages (subject to minimums and maximums) and on the number of surviving dependents. You may also receive money for burial expenses. Benefits are usually payable to you if you do not remarry, and to your dependent children up to a certain age.