Survivors

The Importance of Social Security Survivors Benefits

May 31, 2017 • By

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 www.socialsecurity.gov/survivors. 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

Comments

  1. Cesareo J.

    My wife die December 2020 , and I want to send the decease certificate to the social security administration Im in Illinois were I can send this ?

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Cesareo. Typically, the funeral director notifies us of an individual’s passing by contacting the local Social Security office. To verify this information was reported, 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.

      Check out our Factsheet on How Social Security Can Help When a Family Member Dies.

      There is a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 that can be paid to the surviving spouse. You would need to call and make an appointment to file for that benefit.

      Check out our If You Are The Survivor web page for details. We hope this helps!

  2. Lynn

    My ex-husband passed away in 2019 and I filed for my daughter survivor benefits and in the interview gave all documents needed and told them I was married . I was told I qualified for survivor benefits as well . I never thought anything about it since I had never dealt with this before. I had a family member tell me I was not suppose to receive the benefits so I called in 2019 and they informed me that everything was correct and I was entitled to the benefits until my daughter turns 16 and I did not need to listen to other people that did not work for SS office. I did get divorced early 2020 and received a letter asking If I was married and at the time of the letter I was divorced. So my question still is the same am I entitled to receive survivor benefits because everything I read online says no? My local SS office has been closed due to Covid and I can’t talk to anyone . What if anything should I do ?
    Thank you

    • Vonda

      Hi Lynn, thanks for using our blog. Social Security has an unreduced surviving divorced mother’s benefit, regardless of widow’s age, if she has a child in her care that’s receiving benefits on the deceased record. For more information, please visit our Surviving Divorced Spouse webpage.

      • Lynn

        Will she still qualify even if she remarried before age 60?

  3. Tyler M.

    Can I receive survivor benefits from my late husband since I am raising our 4 year old daughter?

    • Vonda

      Hi Tyler, we are very sorry for your loss. You and your child may be eligible for survivor benefits if your husband earned enough Social Security credits through his work. Unmarried children who are under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) can be eligible to receive Social Security benefits when a parent dies.

      There is a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 that can be paid to the surviving spouse. In addition, there are survivor benefits if your are caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving benefits on the deceased’s record. Survivor benefit amounts are based on your husband’s earnings. The more he paid into Social Security, the higher the benefits would be. The benefits will not be established automatically, you will have to contact us. You can call 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.

      Check out our If You Are The Survivor web page for details. We hope this helps!

  4. Lorna F.

    My father passed away in April. My mom who is in a nursing home receives state pension benefits from her employment. Suddenly there was a deposit made from SSA to her bank account. Would these be survivor benefits? Are the benefits reduced by her pension? Who can I contact to get more information? Thanks.

    • Vonda

      Hi Lorna, thanks for using our blog. Because of privacy and security concerns, you will not be able to conduct Social Security business on behalf of your mother unless you are her representative payee. Having a power of attorney, being an authorized representative, or having a joint bank account with your mother does not authorize you to access information on her Social Security record. If your mother does not have a representative payee and she is not capable of managing and directing her Social Security benefits, someone should consider applying to be her payee. To learn more about becoming a representative payee, you can read our publication, “A Guide for Representative Payees” or check out our Representative Payee webpage. If you wish to apply, call 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.

      If your mother receive a pension from a government job in which she did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of her Social Security widow’s benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO. For additional details, check out our Government Pension Offset factsheet.

  5. Heather G.

    My kids get survivor benefits from their father, and my older daughter turns 16 in February, and goes to school fulltime, will she still get hers?

    • Vonda

      Hi Heather, we are very sorry for your loss. Unmarried children who are under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) can be eligible to receive Social Security benefits when a parent dies. We hope this information helps.

  6. Joyce C.

    My ex husband passed away November 2020 we had been divorced for 30 years and neither one of us had remarried. I understand I am entitled to a percentage of his Social Security. Please give me direction on how I apply for my benefit.

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Joyce. If you are the divorced spouse of a worker who dies, you could get benefits the same as a widow or widower, provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more. Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse won’t affect the benefit amount for other survivors getting benefits on the worker’s record. If you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), the remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits.

      You may be able to receive full benefits at your full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.

      Check out our Surviving Divorced Spouse web page for additional details.

      To apply for benefits, 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.

  7. DEBRA B.

    My spouse has been deceased almost two years. We was receiving a social security check. I am 59 yrs and 9 months. How do I clam survivors benefits?

    • Vonda

      Hi Debra, thanks for using our blog. You would need to call and make an appointment to file for survivor benefits. You can call 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.

  8. cjfinkenbinder@comcast.com

    My Mother passed December of 2020. The funeral home advised me you have been notified. When can i expect a final check and how would I know how much?

    Is the final amount owed based on your income?

    • Vonda

      Hi there. We are very sorry for your loss. To be eligible for a Social Security benefit payment, a person has to live throughout the entire month. We can’t pay benefits for the month of death. If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months. Keep in mind that Social Security benefits are paid the month after they are due. For example, if the person dies in December, you must return the benefit paid in January and continuing. However, some of the deceased’s family members may be eligible to receive survivors benefits. For details on survivor benefits, check out our If You Are The Survivor web page.

  9. Katherine F.

    My daughter received survivor benefits until she was 18. She is now 20 and pregnant, without a job, does she qualify to receive benefits ?

    • Vonda

      Hi Katherine. When a parent gets Social Security retirement benefits or disability benefits, his or her child also may get benefits. Children also can get benefits when a parent dies. The child can be a biological child, adopted child or stepchild. A dependent grandchild also may qualify.

      To get benefits, the child must be unmarried and:
      • Younger than age 18;
      • A full-time student (no higher than grade 12) 18 to 19 years old; or
      • Have a disability that started before age 22 and is 18 years or older.

      See our factsheet on Benefits for Children for more information.

  10. Joye B.

    my husband received a small check from the account of his mother. We received a ssa 1099. His ssa number is not on it How does he put it on his tax form?

    • Vonda

      Hi Joyce, thanks for using our blog. The SSA-1099 is a tax form that shows the total amount of benefits you received from Social Security in the previous year. It is mailed out each January to people who receive benefits and tells you how much Social Security income to report to the IRS on your tax return.

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