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. Annabel A.

    I am a widow , about 3 years now.. My husband was born Aug.2,1941 and died on Sept.2,2016. Until this time I have not received his death benefits . Can I
    still file for his death benefits ? Please I need your advise regarding this matter.
    Sincerely submitted;
    Annabel A. Perry

    • A.C.

      Hi, Annabel. We are sorry to hear about your loss. An application for the Lump-Sum death payment must be submitted within two years from the insured person’s death. In addition, eligible family members may be able to receive monthly survivor benefits. For more information on this, check out our publication, How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies. We hope this helps.

  2. Valerie (.

    Two husbands of mine died. Why can’t I collect on both???

  3. Teresa C.

    My husband died 3 years ago this past August when I was unable to work & 8 weeks pregnant & my son & I still have not received survivor benefits or death benefit… He worked and paid to have these benefits for his family & now I’ve had to hire an attorney whom I will be required to pay attorney fees too now but no one is in any rush to try to help us. In fact, our file “disappeared”, another reason why I had to hire someone to help me get this figured out as to why my son is almost 3 & has not received any support from his deceased father. It’s been a tremendous hardship & I can’t explain the stress & what it’s doing to my health. Maybe I’m just another ‘rare’ incident that no one seems to want to help get our case resolved so we can move forward. I hope & pray no one else has to go through the struggles w/getting their benefits after losing their loved one & having a new born & all those additional expenses. Best of luck!

  4. zam

    Am a widow collectingsurvival benifits we wore married for 30 yrs am 69 shouldi remarry do i have to giveup my benefit

    • A.C.

      Hi, Zam. If you receive retirement or Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) benefits, your marriage will not affect your benefit. If you are receiving SSI, widow or widower’s benefits, your marriage may affect your benefit. To learn more about how marriage affects benefits, visit our Frequently Asked Questions. We hope this helps.

  5. Ramona

    My Husband passed away while he was collecting SSI. Is the percent of survivors benefits different than if he was collecting regular social security? I was born in July 1958.

    • A.C.

      Hi, Ramona. We are sorry to hear about your loss. The amount of your widow’s benefit is based on several factors, including: the earnings of your husband, when he started receiving his benefits, your age, and the amount of your own retirement benefit. We compare your own benefit with your potential survivor benefit. If your survivor benefit would be higher than your own current retirement benefit, you would be eligible for survivor benefits. To learn how much you could be eligible for, please call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Generally, you will have a shorter wait time if you call later in the day. At this time, we do not offer an online application for survivors benefits. You can also learn more information about Survivors benefits here. We hope this helps!

  6. Irriday

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  8. Jo R.

    My spouse passed away when he was 72. I am 60 years old and applied for Surviving Spouse Benefits. How long does it take to start receiving benefits after filing?

    • L.A.

      Hi Jo. We are sorry to hear about your loss. For your security, we do not have access to information about your account on this forum. Please continue to work with your local Social Security office, regarding questions about your specific case. You may call our toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., Monday through Friday. We hope this helps.

  9. Carolyn S.

    Applied for my husbands death benefit several weeks ago and have not received anything please help me understand what is taking so long my ss # is *** – ** – *** my email address is

    • L.A.

      Hi Carolyn. Unfortunately, but for your security, we do not have access to personal information on this forum. In your situation, it is best to contact your local Social Security office. Or, you can call our toll free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) and ask to speak with one of our representatives, who are available Monday through Friday between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. We ask members of the public not to post any personal information on these forums, such as telephone numbers, Social Security number or email addresses, for your own safety. We hope this helps.

  10. Rex E.

    My wife is a retired teacher. I understand that teachers in Texas opted out of SS years ago, but I don” understand why she can’t draw her deceased husbands SS that he paid into for over 50 years.

    • L.A.

      Hi Rex. Thank you for your question. Please note that, according to Social Security rules, if you and your spouse got married before she turned age 60, she is not eligible to receive benefits under her deceased husband’s earnings record. For more information please read our Benefits Planner: Survivors | If You Are The Survivor webpage. We hope this helps.

    • Mike H.

      Rex, Luis A didn’t answer your question. She MIGHT be able to receiver survivor’s benefits, but the amount might be subject to a offset called the Windfall Elimination Provision (WEP). Have her contact her local SSA office.

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