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. Kay

    I am 66 and drawing from my deceased spouse. At what age can I try to work and it won’t effect my disability income

    • Vonda

      Hi Kay, thanks for using our blog. You can get Social Security retirement or survivors benefits and work at the same time. However, there is a limit to how much you can earn and still receive full benefits. The amount you’re allowed to earn while receiving benefits depends on your age. If you attain full retirement age in 2021, the earnings limit is $50,520 but we only count earnings before the month you reach full retirement age. Beginning with the month you reach full retirement age, earnings no longer reduce your benefits, no matter how much you earn. If you’re under full retirement age for the entire year, then we deduct $1 from benefit payments for every $2 earned above the annual limit. For 2021, that limit is $18,960.

      Visit our Receiving Benefits While Working web page for more details.

  2. Barbara B.

    My daughter died December 30, 2020! Am I eligible for a death benefit? She has 4 children under 18, or are they eligible?

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Barbara. Your grandchildren may be eligible for survivor benefits if their mother earned enough Social Security credits through her 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. To inquire about potential benefits, you can 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. We hope this information helps.

  3. Tee

    My mom and dad are both retired and both receive social security benefits. My dad died. What are my mom’s options for receiving survivor benefits? Does she receive my dad’s benefits and hers, or does she have to choose one or the other? I can’t find the answer anywhere.

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Tee. Typically, a widow or widower at full (survivors) retirement age or older generally receives 100% of the deceased worker’s amount, a widow or widower under full retirement age receives about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s benefit amount, and a widow or widower with a child younger than age 16 receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

      We are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record, meaning your mom doesn’t get both retirement and widow(er)s benefits but the higher of the two. For more information about how much her benefit would be, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

  4. Patty G.

    I will be eligible for collecting SS at 62 this year. My husband (69) started collecting SS at the time of his full retirement age of 66. If he passes before me, we are trying to clarify if I would then receive his full SS or a lesser amount. Would I still be collecting my SS benefit or do you only get all or a part of his too? We are trying to decide if I should collect now or wait till 66 and 10months. Thank you for your assistance

    • Vonda

      Hi Patty, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. Typically, a widow or widower at full (survivors) retirement age or older generally receives 100% of the deceased worker’s amount, a widow or widower under full retirement age receives about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s benefit amount, and a widow or widower with a child younger than age 16 receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

      We are only going to pay the highest benefit amount from either record, meaning you don’t get both retirement and widow(er)s benefits but the higher of the two. For more information about how much your benefit would be, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

  5. Lydia T.

    I am receiving survivors benefits and have been caring for two grandchildren ages for the last 3 years. If one parent refuses to give up rights for adoption but can’t take care of children can the grandparents get benefits for taking care of the children.

    • Sue

      Thank you for reading our blog and for your question, Lydia. Under current law, Social Security can only pay benefits to a grandchild if certain conditions are met. In addition to providing more than 50% of your grandchildren’s support, their biological parents must be deceased or disabled, or you must have legally adopted them. For details, see our Parents and Guardians webpage.

      If one or both of your grandchildren have disabilities, you may want to explore their eligibility for Supplemental Security Income. See our Frequently Asked Question. If you have specific questions about your family’s situation, please call your local Social Security office. You’ll find the phone number with our Office Locator. We hope this is helpful.

  6. Monique

    My father just passed away on January 31, 2021. Will we need to return his February SSA check?

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Monique. 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 January, you must return the benefit paid in February and continuing.

      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.

    • arthur j.

      i cannot find a provision or area for reporting a death. no wonder there are overpayments.

      • Vonda

        We are very sorry for your loss, Arthur. 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.

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