The Importance of Social Security Survivors Benefits

May 31, 2017 • By

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Last Updated: November 3, 2023

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. Maree

    My husband recently died unexpectedly and we were in the process of adopting our children, since adoption was not finalized before his passing his name will not be one their birth certificates. Would my grandchildren/adopted children qualify for surviving death benefits? We had the children for 1.5 years before his untimely death.

    • Sue

      We are so sorry for your loss, Maree. Your adopted children may qualify for survivors benefits on your husband’s record if the following conditions are met:
      1. You, the surviving spouse, legally adopt them within two years after your husband’s death or more than two years after his death if he had begun adoption proceedings before his death;
      2. They were living in your household at the time of death; and
      3.They were not receiving regular and substantial contributions for their support from other individuals or any public or private welfare organization that furnishes assistance or services for children.
      Please discuss this with a Social Security representative by calling your local Social Security office. Look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal.

      For general information about survivors benefits, see our Frequently Asked Question. We hope this information

  2. Jo A.

    My mom passed away November 4,2020. Do I have to pay taxes on her benefits for 2020?

    • Vonda

      We’re sorry to hear about your loss, Jo Ann. Social Security mails the SSA-1099 each year in January to people who receive Social Security benefits. It shows the total amount of benefits received from Social Security in the previous year so you know how much Social Security income to report to IRS on your tax return.

      Your mom’s SSA-1099 benefit statement will be mailed to the last address in our records and is intended for the spouse or executor of the deceased. If you do not have access to the mail at that address, the executor will need to call the local field office. Please look for the general inquiry telephone number at the Social Security Office Locator. The number may appear under Show Additional Office Information. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  3. Anthony C.

    I have a question my mom passed away and I was her care provider how do I collect her death benefit my mother social security number was 570-558-7558 Yolanda Correa

    • Vonda

      We’re sorry for your loss, Anthony. Thanks for reading our blog and for your question. Social Security pays a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 but only to a surviving spouse or any children who are eligible for benefits on the deceased parent’s record.


    How do I add my minor children on mySocialSecurity account when we are to receive survivor benefits from my husband who passed on 11/20/20? I completed my application via telephone conversation with a Case Manager. She gave me their claim number but I don’t see anywhere that I can add them. PLEASE HELP

    • Vonda

      Hi Heather, thanks for using our blog. If you are the representative payee for your children, once the applications are processed, you can conduct business for them in your my Social Security account. The Representative Payee Portal is a central portal where you can conduct your own Social Security business or manage direct deposit, wage reporting, and annual reporting for your children that you are payee for. We hope this helps!

  5. Kin C.

    I will take SS benefit at age 70 with 132% of my primary insured amount at 66. If I die at 76 and my wife is 68, after her full retirement age of 67, What is her eligible survivor benefit? Is it the amount I received when I die at 76, or the base amount at full retirement age of 66? Thanks!

  6. Joselyn M.

    My dad passed away in September, my sister and I are supposed to be getting quite a bit of money from Social Security, out mother is planning on taking over half of each of our benefits. Can she do that without our permission?

    • Sue

      We are sorry to hear of your loss, Joselyn. Thanks for reading our blog and for your question. As surviving children, you and your sister may each be due up to 75% of your deceased father’s basic benefit amount. You’ll find more information in our “Benefits For Children” pamphlet. If your father died in September and you have not received monthly checks yet, then we will pay you benefits back to September in a lump sum before your monthly checks start.

      Most minor children who receive Social Security benefits must have a representative payee, which would likely be your mother if you are living with her. A representative payee will receive the lump sum and monthly benefits on your behalf. First, she must take care of your day-to-day needs for food and shelter. Then, she must use the money for your medical and dental care that’s not covered by health insurance. She can also pay for your personal needs, such as clothing and recreation. After she pays for your needs, she must save any leftover money, preferably in U.S. Savings Bonds or an interest-paying bank account. For more details, check out our Representative Payee web page. If you have additional questions, please call us at 1-800-772-1213 or your local office. You’ll find the phone number using our Social Security Office Locator.

  7. Livia T.

    My grandson father passed away last year trying to collect survivor benefit for him .social security officers declined are requests because the father never worked is this possible? Or any other benefits for him?

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Livia. For the child to be eligible on the father’s record, the father must have worked and earned enough Social Security credits. Check out our Social Security Credits web page for more details.

  8. Delia M.

    My mother passed away last month and the funeral home has notified Social Security of my mother’s passing. Is there anything else that I would need to do? No payments have been received since my mothers passing.

  9. Monica L.

    My biological daughter was adopted by my ex in laws who have both since passed. They stopped her money even though she went right to college at 17.

    • Vonda

      For your security, Monica, 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. 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. Please be aware that our call wait times are longer than normal. We hope this information helps.

  10. Gary S.

    My ex wife died last month, November, 2020. She never remarried. We were married for 20 years. We divorced 17 years ago. I plan on retiring in January 2022 when I will be 67 years and 6 months old . Will I be able to claim my ex wife’s Social Security benefits before I claim mine. Waiting on my Social Security until I’m 70 years of age?

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