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, Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications

Deputy Associate Commissioner, Office of Strategic and Digital Communications


  1. Dora G.

    Ten years ago I inherited my home from my deceased husband. I recently sold the house, will the sale of the house affect my survivors benefits?

    • Tanya R.

      The sale of your house has no bearing on entitlement to survivor benefits.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Dora. The sale of a house would not your affect your survivors benefits. However, keep in mind, if you have higher income, you’ll pay an additional premium amount for Medicare Part B (medical insurance) and Medicare Part D
      (prescription drug coverage). We call the additional amount the income-related monthly adjustment amount. For more information, check out our publication, What You Can Do if You Think Your Medicare Income-Related Premium is Incorrect. We hope this helps.

    • Smith D.

  2. Kathy T.

    My husband was a high wage earner prevailing wage…it took me ten years to receive my survivors benefits …and they gave me back pay from SS that I never collected and not the back pay from the actual survivors …a difference of 180,000.00 DO NOT TRUST the SSA period !

  3. Richard N.

    How can i setup in advance survivor benefits so when i die my filipina wife and baby girl will get my money to survive? Please let me know.

  4. Frankie K.

    Do you know you have to pay IRS tax every April 15 on benefits. Democrat Congress under Clinton raised maximum from 50 to 85% of what you got last year to add to your other income if it exceeds a certain amount. Reagan had agreed to 50% for past employers’ share. Extra 35% is a double tax. Democrats never pass up taxing us and increasing inflation.

  5. Robin E.

    My granddaughter’s father recently passed away. He and my daughter were never married and he never was required to pay child support, so my daughter doesn’t have his SSN. His name is on her birth certificate. How can she apply for survivor benefits for her daughter?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Robin. We are sorry to hear that. Your daughter can contact her local Social Security office for assistance. We hope this helps.

  6. Clarence M.

    Wrong info on this site! You say on my Social Security account one can view the Social Security survivors benefits and an estimate of the survivors benefits we could pay your family.
    When one starts receiving Social Security Retirement the Statement disappears from the website. So, there is no way potential surviors can view this info, why?

  7. Vessela P.

    My husband and I are naturalized citizen. We both received SS benefits. Recently we moved back to Bulgaria. Sadly my husband passed away. How can I notify SS for the event and what should I do?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Vessela. We are sorry to hear about your loss. Since you are living outside of the U.S., you can contact your local Federal Benefits Unit for any assistance related to Social Security benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad. We hope this helps.

  8. Dang

    My wife is a Chinese citizen. We have been married for 13 years. She has never had a job. She does have a green card and SSN. Will she be able to get benefits when I die? I am hoping she will be older than 62 when I die she is 57 now.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Dang. She may be eligible for survivors benefits. In certain cases, noncitizens can receive Social Security benefits. But, in order for her to receive benefits, we must have evidence of her lawful presence. That means before we can pay out benefits for any given month, we must have evidence that she was lawfully present in the United States, during that month. To learn more, check out our Survivors Benefits webpage and our Frequently Asked Questions. We hope this helps.

  9. Joan D.

    I get Widows Benefits and was wondering if I can collect SSI for my medical conditions. I have stage 3 Kidney failure and chronic back problems.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Joan. The Supplemental Security Income (SSI) program is a needs-based program that pays benefits to disabled adults and children who have limited income and resources. SSI benefits also are payable to people 65 and older without disabilities who meet the financial limits. To be eligible for SSI, a person must have $2,000 or less in countable resources. For more information on the SSI program and how to apply, visit our Supplemental Security Income webpage. We hope this helps.

      • Dust N.

        WhAt amount can I receive in Ssdi benefits and still get the ssi? I don’t understand how the 1398 I’m getting for disability can exclude me from the supplemental? It’s way below the poverty line to earn the $1398 in California.

        • Vonda

          Hi Dust, thanks for reaching out. To get SSI, you must be disabled, blind, or at least 65 years old and have “limited” income and resources. Check out our Understanding SSI web page for details.

          If you have additional questions, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for assistance or you can contact your local Social Security office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. We hope this information helps.

  10. lorraine s.

    i am 80 & collect SS benefits on my earnings – married for 15 yrs to my x- husband (85) who just died. Want to apply to collect his SS benefits which are higher than mine. What do I need to do -have copy of divorce papers.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Lorraine. To be eligible for divorced spouse benefits, you had to be married to your former spouse for at least 10 years, and you cannot be eligible for a higher benefit on your own record. For more information on how to qualify and how to apply for divorced spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner: If You Are Divorced. We hope this helps.

      • Walt

        The ex-husband just died, so Lorraine is due divorced widow’s—not divorced spouse’s benefits..

        She can’t file online for widow’s benefits—she should be applying for it via appointment with a SSA local field office.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Lorraine. We are sorry for any confusion. If the marriage lasted for at least 10 years, you may be eligible for surviving divorced spouse benefits based on your ex-husband’s earnings.. For additional information on Survivor benefits, check out our Survivors Planner. To find out whether you qualify and if you need to file an application, you can call our toll free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask to speak with one of our representatives, who are available Monday through Friday between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. You can also contact your local office. Hope this helps.

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