The Importance of Social Security Survivors Benefits

May 31, 2017 • By

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Last Updated: July 29, 2021

elderly woman drinking coffee Most people don’t like to think about death. We plan for life, for that day when we retire, for the places we’ll go and the things that we’ll do then. Unfortunately, death is a part of life we must prepare for. The death of a worker is devastating for the entire family, not only emotionally, but also financially.  

Social Security is here to help you secure today and tomorrow with financial benefits, tools, and information to help support you throughout life’s journey. Part of that promise is protection for your family when a worker dies. Some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward survivors benefits for your family. When an income earner dies, certain members of the family may be eligible for survivors benefits, such as widows and widowers, including divorced widows and widowers; children; and dependent parents. The amount of benefits your family receives depends on your lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings are, the higher the benefits will be. The value of your survivors benefit is probably more than the value of your individual life insurance.

You can check your Social Security Statement to see an estimate of survivors benefits we could pay your family. It also shows an estimate of your retirement and disability benefits, and provides other important information. To review your Social Security Statement online, create a personal my Social Security  account. Your my Social Security  account is secure and gives you immediate access to your earnings records, Social Security benefit estimates, and a printable Statement.

When a worker dies, we recommend that their survivors apply for benefits right away. You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office. For more information about survivors benefits, visit If you think you qualify, please don’t wait. Apply today.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Erlita M.

    Currently I’m receiving SS income of $18k and retirement $22k for retirement., total $40k/yearly. I’m planning to get a part time job to help out my family in need. How much money maximum can I earned and still keep my SS check ? In advance, thank you very for your advice.

  2. tmc

    If I would like to begin collecting my social security at age 64, should I apply several months before the age of 64?

    • Ray F.

      Our system is set up to take applications three months in advance. When you are ready, you can complete the online application for your Social Security retirement benefits in as little as 15 minutes. Also, you can create a My Social Security account to review your earnings record and get an estimate of your future benefits. We hope this helps!

  3. Angela H.

    I hope you can help me. My father in law is elderly and I am trying to help him. My mother is law died May 2nd. Today, her Social Security payment showed up in the checking account. I tried to call Social Security, but they wouldn’t answer my questions because they don’t accept POA’s ( I am my father in laws Financial POA). Anyways, My question is: IS he going to get his SS benefit and my mother in laws benefit? Are they taking away his benefit ( which is higher and he needs that money) and just giving him her smaller amount? My father is law is very very worried and upset because he can’t call the Social Security Office ( he is elderly and hard of hearing) and they won’t talk to me. He is afraid because if he only gets her benefit it’s less than 1/3 of their total benefits so he would lose everything ( the house, etc). ANY advice? Any answers? I have spent hours reading the website and it’s not helping.

    • AKA

      Take him to the local SS office. Also, you can’t meddle in his business unless you are appointed his representative payee, so ask about that.

    • Ray F.

      We are sorry for your loss Angela, and regret to hear of the inconveniences you experienced while trying to help out. Your father-in-law is only allowed to receive one payment. He will likely continue to receive his payment, as we generally pay the highest benefit amount from either record. The payment received this month for your mother-in-law, must be returned. The law specifies, that if a deceased person was receiving Social Security benefits, the payment received for the month of death or any later months must be returned. If the person dies in May, you must return the benefit paid in June. Please contact the bank and ask them to return the payment. If your father-in-law needs help managing his Social Security benefits, you can apply to become his Representative Payee. A representative payee is different than having “Power of Attorney” when conducting business with Social Security. As a representative payee, it will be easier for you in the future, to update information in your father-in-law’s record. We hope you understand our role in protecting everyone’s personal information. Please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 to discuss any possibility for survivor’s benefits and to schedule an appointment with the local office if you want to become your father-in-law’s representative payee. Our agents are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thank you.

  4. Rose H.

    I’m already receiving survivor benefits and my daughter just turned 18 in September and she started receiving her own check because she was still in school and she was supposed to go and get a direct express card and she never did will her money come to me or will we lose it forever

    • AKA

      Once she turns 18 it goes to her. She needs to open an account for direct deposit purposes.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Rose. Now that your daughter is 18 years old, we will send payments directly to her. However, the law requires Social Security beneficiaries, to receive their payments electronically. If your daughter has a bank account, she can create a my Social Security account to start direct deposit. Also, she can consider the Direct Express® debit card as another viable option. Your daughter can call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 and one of our agents will assist her. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. See “How Do I Sign Up to Receive an Electronic Payment? For more information.

  5. Shelly P.

    I have been through the SSDI process for myself, my husband, 2 friends and now my daughter. They were all approved but one who and she did not follow the paralegals instructions and was deceptive.All used the same paralegal I did. I am not an expert, just a regular person, but here is my advise.

    There are a lot of deadlines, the need for medical records, etc. is vital to your case. Continue to see doctors until your case is settled.
    My advice, find a lawyer or a paralegal to do the work for you. The only time you actually need an attorney is if after you have your hearing with the Judge you are turned down. A that point a paralegal can not represent you in a law suit, it must be an Attorney.

    For most this is a long stressful process from start to finish, I would not do it without legal representation to
    order, copy and file and the paperwork for me. Every case is different, so don’t think your case will move along like anyone else that you may know who went through the process. We all have different medical back grounds, some have more records to establish their case or issues you may not know about that helped them to get through the process quicker, or may have slowed them down. Your case is your case, you can’t depend on how much time it took others, or how much money they may have gotten awarded in the end. If you want to know an approximate amount of what you may be awarded, ask for your Social Security Statement. It will have a place on there that will tell what your income may be if you have become disabled and cannot work.
    You will only receive what you paid into the system during the years you have worked.

    Realize you cannot work during the process whatsoever. Realize there is always the possibility that someone from the social security office may check up on you to see if you are as disabled as you claim to be. In other words, don’t say you can’t walk, or lift a certain amount of weight, etc. and then be seen carrying 30 lbs of groceries into you house, mowing your lawn or doing anything to go against doctors orders or your listed limitations. Sometimes, people can report you and they will send someone to document you if you are living in such a way that goes against what you have claimed you cannot do. I have not seen that happen, but It does happen.
    Just be prepared for a very long process and if it turns out to be shorter than average, it will be a delight and an unexpected blessing. My daughter has gone through her first year of waiting, and updating all her records. she was just turned down the second time and is waiting to see the judge. The wait time may be as long as another 18 months.
    Please, please, please, to relieve or hold down the stress levels, find legal representation!! Look for someone who will file for you from the beginning to end.
    The gather of paper work, medical records and other things you will need to support your case can be long and tedious and frustrating. A legal rep. will have be able to request all of that on your behalf. Most medical personnel will respond to a request from a legal representative much faster a patients request.

    Some attorneys let you do all the work, and they aren’t worth the effort of even talking to . Find someone who will go through the process from the beginning to end. Choose legal representation that will not charge you until you have won your case. By law, no legal representation can charge you more than 25% of what you get paid when your case is settled. My paralegal earned only 18 dollars after two years of representing a client who had a very short working record and who had only a small amount of money owed to her. That is the kind of person who you need representing you. The more expensive a lawyer is means nothing. The way the system works is already established by laws etc. A high priced attorney cannot change that and it does not mean you will get through the system faster.

    Find a legal rep who you are comfortable with, and check their reputation. One that is understanding but will also be honest with you, even if the truth hurts. Don’t be afraid to ask questions but don’t be hateful with them. Most will understand your frustrations and that you are not feeling well and may have an off day, but they can’t change the system either and taking out your frustrations on them will not change and thing or work in your favor.

    When I first filed I made an appointment with an attorney and went to the address I was given. The man was working in a motel and came to the door in a dirty T shirt and baggy shorts and his room smelled like sweat and as if 10 hookers had been working there recently. Not what I was looking for in my legal representation!
    I hope this has been helpful. Best wishes to you.

    • AKA

      How could your rambling help anyone?

  6. Vivian H.

    My husband passed. And as far as I know he never remarried and neither did I. He was in another state and Vita statistics. Will not give me a death certificate to apply for anything. He was also in the army. What can I do about this.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Vivian. In most cases, the funeral home will report the person’s death to Social Security and we use this completed information from the funeral home as proof of death. Please contact us to discuss possible survivor’s benefits. To schedule an appointment or to speak to one of our agents, call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Or you can contact your local office directly. Thanks.

    • AKA

      Also, contact your local county VA representative.

  7. Shirley

    Don’t you have to be at least 60 yrs of age to receive survivor benefits

    • Ann C.

      Thank you for your question, Shirley. Widows or Widowers of persons who worked long enough under Social Security, are eligible for benefits at age 60 (age 50 if disabled and the disability started before or within 7 years of the deceased worker’s death). For additional information on survivors benefits, please visit our Survivors Planner.

    • AKA


  8. Shirley H.

    Don’t you have to be at least 60 yrs of age to receive survivor benefits

  9. Melissa

    My husband passed away 5yrs ago age 41 leaving me then with a 10 and 12yr old children I thank god for survivor benefits but now they are 16 and just turned 18 I am forced to look for fulltime work which for the last 4yrs been taking and dealing with depression both kids endured and on top of that my dad passed suddenly at 61 of heart attack. Going on 3yrs im only 44 and just started therapy because I feel like a ton of bricks landed on me my husband was the bread winner and i tried to work but my kids needed me and still do im scared no life insurance just ss which like I said I am grateful but scared

  10. Douglas G.

    $225.00 THAT’S IT. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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