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.


Tags: , , , , , , ,

See Comments

About the Author

Jim Borland, Acting Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Comments

  1. Arlene P.

    My husband and I were married for 3 years when he died of cancer ( multiple myaloma) at 43, We had no children together. I remarried 10 years later. We were married for 5 years when he died of pancreatic cancer at age 52. Yes, talk about heart ache, I remarried and divorced in 2010. Now I’m alone at age 62 can I receive survivor benefits from my late husband?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question Arlene. A widow of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, may be eligible to receive reduced benefits as early as age 60 (age 50 if disabled). In addition to satisfying the length of marriage requirement, the widow must also be unmarried (unless remarriage occurred after attainment of age 60/age 50 if disabled). At this time, we do not offer an online application for survivor’s benefits. To see if you are eligible for benefits on your deceased husband(s) record, you will need to speak to a Social Security representative. To schedule an appointment with your local office, call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 and speak with one of our representatives. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. An appointment is not required, but if you schedule one, it may reduce the time you spend waiting to speak to someone. We hope this information helps.

  2. Licy F.

    I am presently working for the Federal Government (36 years) and planning to retire this 2017. I have 30 quarters paid on SS and need 10 to complete the 40s. I got divorced on 2014 and haven’t remarried. Question – am I entitled to a ss benefit/check when I turn 62 years next 2018 from my ex-husband? What is the procedure to claim benefits if I am entitled to? I am planning later to get me a part time job to complete the 10 qtrs. I need. When I have the 40 qtrs. – will I be able to get an ss check or wait until 65 I am totally confused!

    • Ray F.

      Hi Licy, you may be eligible to receive benefits on your ex-spouse’s record at age 62, if:
      • You were married to your ex-spouse for at least 10 years;
      • You are unmarried;
      • Your ex-spouse is entitled to Social Security retirement or disability benefits and,
      • The benefit you are entitled to receive based on your own work is less than the benefit you would receive based on your ex-spouse’s work.
      Also, if you continue to work, you will have to contact us as soon as you attain your 40 quarters of coverage (credits). Keep in mind that a pension based on work that is not covered by Social Security (for example, Federal civil service and some State or local government agencies) may cause the amount of your Social Security benefit to be reduced. Your benefits can be reduced based on one of two provisions. If you are divorced and qualify for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record, your benefits may be affected by the “Government Pension Offset“. Your own Social Security benefit can be reduced based on the “Windfall Elimination Provision“. We hope this information helps.

  3. Diane

    My husband died in 1995 (I never remarried and continued working) and when I turn 63 I am planning to retire and apply for Social Security Benefits. I have been told in the past that I can restrict my application to apply for only the widow’s benefit now and then when I reach my own full retirement age I can apply and switch to my own benefit which will be higher. Recently I called SS and was told I could not do this but I read on the site that I could. Who do I believe?

    • Ray F.

      Hi Diane. If you are also eligible for retirement benefits (but haven’t applied yet), you may have an additional option. In many cases, a widow or surviving divorced spouse can restrict the scope of their application and start receiving their survivor’s benefits, while delaying their own retirement benefit and earn delayed retirement credits. At this time you cannot apply for survivors’ benefits online. To make an appointment with your local Social Security office, call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. We apologize for any misunderstanding.

      • Diane

        Thank you so much for this information Ray Fernandez! This clears up the conflicting information I received earlier by phone.

  4. Mike

    My wife died 25 years ago; we were married for 20 years. How do I get a copy of her SS statement? I need it to determine the amount of survivor’s benefits I may be entitled to, and I have none of her statements.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Mike. Any of our representatives will be able to review your benefit record and verify your payment information. You may not even have to travel to the local Social Security office, you can write to us, or you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 for further assistance. Representatives at our toll free number are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thanks!

  5. Elizabeth

    Do I have to have an appointment to apply for survivor benefits for my daughter, or can I just walk in to an office and apply? Thanks

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question Elizabeth. Some of our local offices do offer walk-in appointments; however, these appointments are on a first come, first serve basis. An appointment is not required, but if you call ahead and schedule one, it may reduce the time you spend waiting to speak to someone. It will also establish “protective filing” and prevent any loss of benefits for your daughter. Please call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 and ask one of our agent to assist you. Representatives are available Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. We hope this helps.

  6. Connie S.

    I would like to no how long it takes to get back pay of one month i have recived two checks they said they would send it when they figured i hadnt worked in to yrs prior im 64

    • Ann C.

      Hello, Connie. For your security, we do not have access to private information in this venue. Please continue working with your local Social Security office or call our toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 for further assistance. Representatives at our toll-free line are available Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Thanks.

  7. carol s.

    The Gov Pension Offset (GPO) provision will disqualify you from receiving your spouses Soc Sec (SSA) Survivors Benefit if your non-Soc Sec pension is two-thirds or more than your spouses SSA Survivors Benefit. The GPO most likely will effect the pension earned by law enforcement, firemen/women, other public safety professionals, and teachers, even if these professionals earned 40 SSA credits at some other time in their lives. As of Dec 2013, 81% of those negatively affected by GPO were WOMEN! (Soc Sec: The Gov Pension Offset (GPO), Congressional Research Service, April 23, 2014). There are many exemptions/exceptions to GPO, but SSA staff will not help you with these exemptions/exceptions (SSA POMS: “Claim Specialists are to provide information, and avoid giving advice to claimants”, SSA: Improvements to Claims Process Could Help People Make Better Informed Decisions about Retirement Benefits, Report to the Special Committee on Aging, U.S. Senate, September 2016).

    SSA retirement/survivor benefits are not welfare, but an annuity. SSA has been implementing provisions to disqualify/deny benefits based on “need”, instead of contributions, i.e. GPO, Windfall Elimination Provision, and taxation of SSA benefits.

    • Ray F.

      If you receive a pension from a government job in which you did not pay Social Security taxes, some or all of your Social Security spouse’s, widow’s or widower’s benefit may be offset due to receipt of that pension. This offset is referred to as the Government Pension Offset, or GPO. Some individuals are exempt from the offset. To see a list of these exemptions, visit our Retirement Planner: Government Pension Offset (GPO). Thanks!

  8. C B.

    My husband, who was the primary wage earner, died 2 years ago. I just turned 62 and want to apply for my own retirement benefits now, which are much lower than my Survivor Benefits, and wait a few more years before applying for Survivor Benefits. Is this possible? I am getting conflicting statements from SSA regarding whether I can do this.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question. If you are the widow of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can start receiving reduced benefits as early as age 60(age 50 or over if you are disabled). At this time, if you are also eligible for retirement benefits on your own record (but haven’t applied yet), you may have an additional option. You can apply for retirement or survivors benefits now and switch to the other (higher) benefit at a later date. If you work while you receive Social Security benefits, and you make more than the yearly limit, your earnings may reduce your benefit amount. Please read our publication: How Work Affects Your Benefits for more information. To make an appointment or to speak to one of our representatives, call our toll free number 1-800-772-1213, Monday through Friday, between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Or contact your local Social Security office directly.

      • C B.

        Thank you for clarifying this.

  9. tinamar

    Hello. If my ex spouse decides to take his social security at age 62, will that be the end of me being able to collect on his at my full retirement age? If he takes his early, I will not be able to survive financially since my work record will not pay out very much. Thank you

    • Ray F.

      Hi Tinamar. If you meet all other factors of eligibility and your marriage lasted 10 years or longer, you may be eligible to receive Divorced Spouse benefits on your ex-spouse’s record. Your benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement benefit amount, only if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age.

  10. tendaniel

    My ex spouse is two years younger than me. My full retirement age is 66 & 4 months, his is 66 & 8 months. If I collect on my own work record at full retirement age, I will receive about $830/month. When my ex reaches his full retirement age, I was told that his ss would be added to mine for a monthly payment of $1,300. But, would I have to wait until I am 68 years old to collect on his ss and receive the full amount from his ss? Thank you

    • Ray F.

      Your benefit as a divorced spouse can be equal to one-half of your ex-spouse’s full retirement amount (or disability benefit) if you start receiving benefits at your full retirement age. To see if you meet all the requirements go to “If You Are Divorced”. Thanks!

Comments are closed.