Understanding Social Security Survivors Benefits

September 19, 2019 • By

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Last Updated: September 19, 2019

" "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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About the Author

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications

Mike Korbey, Deputy Commissioner for Communications


  1. Ronda T.

    My dad recently passed away. My mom is legally blind. I am trying to get my dads social security transferred to my mom as his social security was so much more. What do I need to do?

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Ronda. We are sorry to hear about your loss. Your mother can contact her local office for assistance. We hope this helps.

  2. NDB

    I received Survivors benefits for me and my son. I got remarried in June of 2016. My benefits stopped. My son continued to get his until he was 18 years old. He turned 18 in August of 2019. I haven’t received any letters from the SS office at all since. Until two days ago. I got a letter stating I have to pay back $5,985.00 by Feb 10th 2021. That’s literally next week. Not understanding this I called SSI Customer Service. The man said I was over paid in 2014, 2015, and 2016. Usually if there was an overpayment SSI withheld mine and my sons benefits until it was payed back. Then they were started again. There was a time I received a letter stating I was over paid and I owed money back but I hadn’t worked in three years at that time and I hadn’t been receiving anything for me or my son for those couple of years. They found out it was wrong.
    What I don’t understand is why after almost 5 years of not receiving benefits I am just now getting this letter. Why If I was over paid back in 2014 did I continue to get benefits in 2015 and the first part of 2016? Why were they not just withheld like in the past. Also the gentleman I spoke to on the phone said I could see all payments and withholdings on my account on and I can not see them at all. Also he said I can see the letters that have been sent to me and the only letter I see was the bill that was just sent.

    • Sue

      Hi, NDB, and thanks for using our blog. We apologize for your frustration. For your security, we do not have access to the details of your overpayment in this forum. Read our Overpayments fact sheet that explains options for repaying as well as appeal and waiver rights. For further assistance, 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 volume and wait times are greater than normal.

      As far as previous correspondence we may have sent you, only a few notices are available online through your my Social Security account Message Center, including the annual COLA notice.

      We hope this information helps.

  3. Robin M.

    if you are on social security and divorce is either party entitiled to others social security upon either parties death

    • Sue

      Hi, Robin. Thanks for using our blog and for your question. You may be able to receive surviving divorced spouse benefits based on your ex’s record (or vice versa) if your marriage lasted at least 10 years. If you or your spouse passes away, the other may be eligible for surviving divorced spouse benefits as early as age 60, or if disabled, as early as age 50. Whether a survivor benefit is payable will depend on the benefit amounts of the deceased spouse and the surviving spouse. You cannot collect both, but the higher of the two. If you need additional information, please call your local Social Security office. You’ll find the phone number here. We hope this helps.

  4. Cindy C.

    How do I calculate what my retirement benefits would be for my deceased husband. I am 55 and he passed 5 years ago. His income was significantly higher than mine is now. Thank you

    • Vonda

      Hi Cindy, 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.

      For more information, visit our If You Are The Survivor web page.

      For a widow’s benefit estimate, 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.

  5. S

    Does a temporary guardians income disqualify minor children of deceased parents from social security benefits, Medicaid, etc

    • Vonda

      Hi Shelly, thanks for using our blog. If the children are receiving Social Security survivor benefits, income does not affect the benefits. If receiving Supplemental Security Income (SSI), a change in household income can affect their benefits.

  6. Cecilia

    My ex-husband has recently passed. We have three children together. Our children were born in Mexico. My ex-husband did not get to apply for their legal status during his lifetime. Can my children, who are minors, receive survivor benefits? And if so, can we get information on how to go about this as we are in Mexico. Thank you.

    • Vonda

      We are very sorry for your loss, Cecilia. We recommend that individuals living outside the United States contact the nearest Federal Benefit Unit in the area for any assistance related to Social Security programs and benefits. Also, our Office of International Operations home page provides more information to assist our customers living abroad.

  7. DC

    I’m a lender and my borrower is in need of a document that indicates how long their survivor benefits last. Where could my borrower get such documentation? Ideally, if the borrower were to not remarry, does their survivor benefits last for life or is there a time when it stops?

    • Vonda

      Hi there. Widow(er)s that remarry after age 60 (age 50 if disabled), may continue to qualify for benefits on their deceased spouse’s Social Security record. These benefits are typically payable for life unless the surviving spouse begins collecting a retirement benefit that is greater than the survivor benefit. Check out our Survivors Benefits web page for details.

  8. Crystal

    Hi. My daughter is 16 and receives SSI (Survivor’s benefits) from her deceased father’s SS. I may get married soon, and I was wondering if this would affect her benefits. Thank you!

    • Vonda

      Hi Crystal, thanks for using our blog. Your daughter must be unmarried to qualify for child’s benefits. Your marital status will not affect your daughter’s Social Security survivor benefits. Check out our Survivors web page for more details.

  9. teresa

    I was married to my ex husband for 31 years , we were married in 1977 . then we were divorced 11/2009 , He died in a car wreck in 2012. I remarried in 12/2010. my current husband now is 79 , I am 60 . Will I be eligible to draw ssi at age 60 or 62 . I worked some and my last statement showed my ssi Income may be around 500.00 . Question, will I be able to receive benefits under my ex husbands. or should I wait to claim benefits from when I worked for the 500.00 , I am still married to my second husband who is now 79yrs and he receives his ssi . what should I do.

    • Vonda

      Hi Teresa, thanks for using our blog. Because you remarried before age 60, you are not eligible for benefits on your ex-spouse’s record while married. You may be eligible for spouse’s benefits if you are at least 62 years of age and your spouse is receiving retirement or disability benefits. Check out our Benefits For Your Spouse web page for additional details.

      If you qualify for your own retirement benefits and for benefits as a spouse, we always pay your own retirement benefits first. If your benefits as a spouse are higher than your own retirement benefits, you will get a combination of benefits equaling the higher spouse benefit. However, the spouse’s benefit cannot exceed one-half of your husband’s full retirement amount (not the reduced benefit amount). So, you can only receive additional benefits if your own full retirement benefit (not your reduced benefit) is less than half of your husband’s full retirement benefit.

  10. Shirley P.

    Can a unmarried partner receive widow benefits

    • Vonda

      Hi Shirley, thanks for using our blog. In cases where a common-law marriage may be involved, Social Security follows the state laws. So, check the laws in your state. For more information, please visit our Survivors web page.

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