General, Survivors

Social Security Survivors Benefits Explained

December 16, 2021 • By

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Last Updated: December 16, 2021

Elderly man looking out the window while reviewing tabletWe are here for surviving family members when a worker dies. In the event of your death, certain members of your family may be eligible for survivors’ benefits. These include widows and widowers, divorced widows and widowers, children, and dependent parents.

The amount of benefits your survivors receive depends on your lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings, the higher their benefits. That’s why it’s important to make sure your earnings history is correct in our records. That starts with creating your personal my Social Security account.

A my Social Security account is secure and gives you immediate access to your earnings records, Social Security benefit estimates, and a printable Social Security Statement. The Statement will let you see an estimate of the survivors benefits we could pay your family.

You may also want to visit our Benefits Planner for Survivors to help you better understand Social Security protections for you and your family as you plan for your financial future.

Please visit our website or read our publication, Survivors Benefits, for more information. You can also help us spread the word by sharing this information with your family and friends.


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About the Author

Dawn Bystry, Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Comments

  1. Cindy G.

    My huband passed away in 2013. I’m under the age of 60 and was told unless I was disable I couldn’t draw his SS until I reached 60. How many days before your 60th birthday do you start the paperwork to draw his SS?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Cindy. We are sorry to hear about your loss. You can apply for survivor benefits up to three months in advance of when you want them to start. For more information, please visit our If You Are The Survivor page. We hope this helps. 

  2. Linda D.

    My sister began receiving her Social Security at age 62. She divorced from her only spouse after 33 years of marriage. He began receiving his Social Security at age 65. If she was to apply for his SS, what percentage would she be eligible? We have been told on 32 percent.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Linda. Thanks for visiting our blog. For your sister’s security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We encourage your sister to continue working with her local Social Security office for specific questions regarding her potential benefit. Keep in mind, to be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, she had to be married to her former spouse for at least 10 years, and she cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on her own record. For more information on how to qualify for divorced spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner.  We hope this helps.

  3. Evans T.

    I am trying to find out who to I contact to return a Social Security Payment. My dad had direct Deposit for his checks. Now that my dad passed away before the end of the pay cycle. The bank will not release the funds without a letter requesting the money back.
    Please help!

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Evans. We are sorry to hear about your loss. Generally, once the funeral director notifies us of an individual’s passing and a direct deposit payment is not payable due to death, the Department of Treasury will notify the financial institution or bank to return to funds right away. Please contact your local Social Security office to determine the status of the returned payment. We hope this helps. 

  4. rswartzfager

    My wife just received a letter from the social security office telling her that she is due additional survivors benefits for me (spouse), it then states that she is required to call and file for the additional benefits. Why not just place the additional benefits to the spouse benefits ? and what happens if she doesn’t?

    • Ann C.

      Hi. Unfortunately, your question is a bit more complex than we can answer in this forum. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. We ask that members in our Blog community work with our offices with specific questions. Your wife can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. She can also contact her local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  5. Helen

    My ex husband, and co-parent to our minor child, unfortunately passed away. Our child is receiving survivor benefits now and I am Rep Payee. His father was responsible for health insurance coverage and an extra curricular lesson. Can I use my son’s survivor benefits for those? I want to make sure I use the benefit correctly. I had to put a lot of things on a credit card while getting everything situated and this would help stabilize the household financially after losing my son’s father.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Helen. Thanks for your question. For more information about how you must use the monthly benefits as a representative payee, please check out our publication, A Guide to Represenative Payees. If you have addtional specific questions, please call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  6. JD

    My parents got divorced and my dad remarried but my mom did not. I am trying to claim ex-spousal benefits for my mom after my dad passed in 2021. She has the divorce decree but it does not have a wedding date on it. My parents were married in Vietnam in 1965 but they do not have a marriage certificate. How do I go about proving that they were married for more than 20+ years? What other documents would the SS office accept as proof of marriage? I called the main 800 SS number but the representative was not able to help me.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, JD. Thanks for visiting our blog. Unfortunately, your question is a bit more complex than we can answer in this forum. We ask that members in our Blog community work with our offices with specific questions. Your mother can contact her local Social Security office for assistance. We hope this helps.

  7. Delbert C.

    my daughter was married to a man who died. they claimed her 2 children as dependents on their income tax. he did not adopt the children .Are they eligable to receive his SS benefits ?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Delbert. We are sorry to hear about your loss. A stepchild may qualify for benefit under certain circumstances. Your daughter can can call us at 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., for assistance. You can also contact your local Social Security office. We hope this helps.

  8. Roberto O.

    yo llevo a mi mama a la visita del mes ¿ a partir de cuando nos debemos presentar?

  9. Rhonda L.

    what is the policy for social security for common law marriage, spending over 25 yrs with partner and the pass?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Rhonda. Thanks for your question. Social Security follows the state laws. So, check the laws in your state. To get survivors or spouses benefits you generally must live in a state that recognizes common-law marriage. However, most states (even those that do not recognize in-state common-law marriage) will recognize a common-law marriage entered into in another state that does. We hope this helps. 

  10. Heidi W.

    Hi. We recently adopted our 15 year old foster daughter who lost her father at age 5 and was receiving survivor benefits before being taken into DHR custody in 2020. Soon after we started fostering her, her mother also died. So now, we’ve been trying for weeks & weeks to get a hold of anyone but it just puts you on hold for 20 mins then says it’s trying again then just rings & rings, then hangs up on you. Very frustrating. It is very important that we get her social security number updated with her new name after the adoption but also ensure she’s getting the survivor benefits she deserves. Please will someone – anyone – contact us. We can’t update her Medicaid, her medical info, nothing until we get her ss# updated. How can we do that if your offices are closed & nobody answers the phone?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Heidi. We are sorry to hear about your experience. We apologize for any problems you may have when you call us as we modernize our telephone system. We are working with our telephone system providers to fix these issues. On April 7, 2022, local Social Security offices plan to add more in-person appointments and will again offer in-person service for people without an appointment. You can learn more by visiting our most recent blog post here. We hope this helps.

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