Understanding Social Security Survivors Benefits

" "Unfortunately, tragedy can strike without any warning. The loss of the family wage earner can be devastating both emotionally and financially. Social Security helps by providing income for the families of workers who die.

Some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward survivors benefits for workers and their families. The value of the survivors benefits you have under Social Security may even be more than the value of your individual life insurance. When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for survivors benefits. These include widows and widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children, and dependent parents.

Here are the people who can get survivors benefits based on your work:

  • Your widow or widower may be able to get full benefits at full retirement age. The full retirement age for survivors is age 66 for people born in 1945-1956, with the full retirement age gradually increasing to age 67 for people born in 1962 or later. Your widow or widower can get reduced benefits as early as age 60. If your surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.
  • Your widow or widower can get benefits at any age if they take care of your child younger than age 16 or disabled, who is receiving Social Security benefits.
  • Your unmarried children, younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they’re attending elementary or secondary school full time), can also get benefits. Your children can get benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22. Under certain circumstances, we can also pay benefits to your stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren, or adopted children.
  • Your dependent parents can get benefits if they’re age 62 or older. (For your parents to qualify as dependents, you must have provided at least half of their support.)

You can read more our publication Survivors Benefits for more information.

How much your family can get from Social Security depends on your average lifetime earnings. The more you earned, the more their benefits will be. For more information on widows, widowers, and other survivors, visit our webpage.

Social Security is with you through life’s journey. Be sure to tell friends and family about our Survivors Benefits and how we can help in times of need.

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234 thoughts on “Understanding Social Security Survivors Benefits

  1. Hello, My husband passed away in December of 2017 he was a week and 1 day from turning 66. He was on S.S. disability. I was able to start receiving his S.S. survivor’s benefits when I turned 60 at a reduced rate of 66%. I’m now 62 and was wondering if my benefits would change to my husband’s original S.S. when he passed? Do I have to apply for my own S.S?

    • Hi Belinda, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. If you qualify for retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

      Our system is set up to take retirement applications four months in advance, and when you’re ready, you can apply for your benefits online. If you need assistance, you can call us at 1-800-772-1213 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.

  2. Hello, my husband passed away in 2005 at the age of 44, I have not remarried and I’ve started looking at my retirement. Is there anyway I could get an estimate of what my social security benefit would be If I were to claim his benefits at the age of 60yrs and also could I swap over to my social security benefits at the age of 67 yrs if it is more? I still have many years to go until I reach the age of 60 but I would still like to start planning ahead. Thank you

    • Hi Kelly, thanks for using our blog. If you are the widow of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60. If you qualify for retirement benefits on your own record, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62 or as late as age 70.

      For retirement estimates, Social Security has an online calculator called a Retirement Estimator that provides immediate retirement benefit estimates based on your actual Social Security earnings record. Plus, it also allows you to create “what if” scenarios. You can, for example, change your “stop work” dates or expected future earnings to create and compare different retirement alternatives. If you sign in or create a my Social Security account, you can use the Retirement Calculator which gives you the ability to plan for your future and compare your individualized retirement benefit estimates at age 62, Full Retirement Age (FRA), and age 70 with various scenarios that you select. Your retirement estimates are provided in both written and chart form.

      To inquire about widow’s benefits, you will need to 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.

    • Hi Gabriel, thanks for using our blog to ask your question. The children may be eligible for survivor benefits if their deceased parent earned enough Social Security credits through covered 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. Check out our Benefits for Children factsheet for more details.

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