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.


257 thoughts on “Understanding Social Security Survivors Benefits

  1. If a minor child receiving survivor benefits gets pregnant is she still entitled to continue receiving the survivor benefits from a deceased parent?

  2. Hi. I have a couple of questions I can’t find answers to in the SSA pamphlets or in the FAQ area so am hoping you can help. Have been married 35 years. My wife (current age 59, full retirement age 67) is considering taking her reduced SS benefit early at age 62. I am 65, full retirement age 66 and planning on delaying taking my own benefit at age 70. If upon my retirement at age 70 a spousal benefit greater than my wife’s reduced age 62 own benefit exists, would that spousal benefit amount also be reduced because my wife had previously taken her own benefit early? If I pre-decease my wife after I begin drawing my own age 70 benefit, would she then be eligible for a surviving widow benefit of 100% of my age 70 benefit once she has reached her full retirement age 67, assuming that said surviving widow benefit would be higher than her spousal benefit that she had been drawing? Would the surviving widow benefit be reduced at her full retirement age 67 because she had previously claimed her own benefit early? Thanks in advance for your help and answers!

    • Hi Jeff, thanks for using our blog to ask your questions. Your wife’s spousal benefit on your record could be up to 50 percent of your full retirement age benefit amount. If she qualifies for both a benefit from her own work history and a spousal benefit, we always pay her own benefit first. She cannot receive spouse’s benefits unless you are receiving your retirement benefits.

      If she took her reduced retirement first while waiting for you to begin receiving benefits, her own retirement portion remains reduced. When you add spouse’s benefits later, the total retirement and spouses benefit together will total less than 50 percent of your full retirement amount. You can find out more about this at our Benefits for Spouses calculator.

      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. For more information about how much your benefit would be, visit our Survivors Planner.

  3. I have two children their mother died two weeks ago. I am their guardian. How do I start a file to see if their mother worked enough to receive her social security. She spent a lot of time in jail so it is unlikely.

    • We are very sorry for your loss, Geneva. To inquire on potential benefits for the children, please 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.

  4. I am receiving my survivor benefits on my deceased husband’s account and I work part time and I get charged a penalty each year for making over the limit , but they keep full benefit checks. So for example if I worked until December this year I would make around 21000. So this limit does not actually get reached until sometime in November, but each year they keep my February check and then they keep a check either in August or September. So how can they charge me an overpayment when I have not even earned it yet? Also this year I owed 1052 according to the formula using the 18240 limit for 2020 so they kept my February 2020 check for 813 and now they sent me a letter a couple weeks ago and they will keep my October check. That adds up to 1626 which is an extra 574 dollars. Same thing happened in 2019 where they held full checks and I was charged an extra 700 dollars. I was also overcharged in 2018. I feel cheated and I would not feel that way if they charged me according to my income subtracted from their income limit divided by two is my penalty and I am willing to pay that. I am not understanding why they take my full check. I am a widow and I need to buy food and pay bills. I only ask for what I am supposed to receive. I have made numerous trips to the local office and tried talking to them until I am blue in the face and I just get nothing but spin. They don’t ever tell me how much I owe on the letters they send. They just say “our records show that we should not have paid you for February and you will not receive benefits until overpayment is paid”. You will receive a check in December, then you will owe 0.00. I owed 0.00 according to their records in December 2019, but then in February 2020 I all a sudden owe 813(my full check). No way could I have reached my income limit in less than 2 months. So this is what I deal with now. Also I turned in a reconsideration last year and never heard back. I won’t qualify for the streamline waiver during covid-19 because they dated my overpayment back to February 2020. Thanks for listening. Don’t know how to deal with this. I have started putting about 100 bucks from each benefit check I do get, in order to save up for these overpayments.

    • For your security, 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.

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