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. Mindy P.

    Has anyone ever got the benefits stopped without social security not notifying u

  2. xbuzznet

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  3. Virginia S.

    My husband died two months ago. Since my SS amount was higher than his, I chose to continue receiving mine and his check was stopped immediately. I have not received his allotted burial expenses and would like to know when I can expect to receive it.

    • Luis A.

      Hi Virginia. We are sorry to hear about your loss. Please note that for your security, we do not have access to your personal information in this forum. In your situation, please call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), from Monday through Friday, between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. You may also contact the local Social Security office. For more information on this, please read our publication titled “How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies.” We hope this helps.

  4. Walter T.

    My step daughter works for a lawyer said there was a new law that people don’t know about signing up for “Spouse Protection” so that she can receive my social security benefits without having a problem collecting from Social Security. Could you please answe this question for me. Thank You

  5. Margarita N.

    My mother died on September 21, 2019. I had to pay $3400 funeral costs as her only daughter and heir. She worked 32 years for the State of Florida. Will Social Security send me anything towards her funeral costs? She was collecting social security. If so where can I file a claim for funeral benefits

    • Ann C.

      Hi, Margarita. We are sorry to hear about your loss. The Lump-Sum Death benefit of $255 (a one-time payment) may be payable upon the death of a person who has worked long enough to be insured under Social Security. Only eligible family members may be able to receive the one-time payment and monthly survivor benefits. For more information on this, please read our publication, How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies. We hope this helps.

  6. Scott A.

    I am 57 my wife has passed away three years ago I was born am I eligible for widows pension at age 60 and am I able to collect?

    • Luis A.

      Hi Scott. Thank you for your question. To be eligible for survivors benefits, you have to be 60 years old (or be 50 years old or older and disabled). For more information about survivors benefits, check out our Benefits Planner: Survivors | If You Are The Survivor on the internet. We hope this helps.

  7. D. T.

    I am 64 years old, can I claim spousal benefits now and switch to my own working benefits when I turn 70?

    Thanks for your prompt reply.

    • Ann C.

      Hi, D.T. Thank you for your question. To qualify for spouse’s benefits, your spouse must be receiving retirement or disability benefits. Also, if you qualify for Social Security benefits on your own record, we pay that amount first. But if you also qualify for a higher amount as a spouse, you’ll get a combination of benefits that equals that higher amount. For more information, visit here. We hope this helps.

      • I R.

        Hi. My name is I. Rose. Me and my significant other, have been in a relationship and lived together in CA for 33 yrs. CA does not honor common law in our state. Is there any way I could collect his soc sec benefits if he passes before I do? He is 67 yrs and began collecting his soc sec at 62 yrs old. I am 64 yrs old and will not collect soc sec until Im 66 yrs old. We do not have children, but we raised both his and my sons, and we all consider and love each other as a family. Do we have to be legally married for ten years in order to collect the spouses benefits?

        • Ann C.

          Hi, I Rose. Generally, individuals must be married for one year before they can get spouse’s benefits. An applicant for surviving spouse benefits must be married for 9 months. For more information about how to qualify as a spouse, visit here. For additional information about surviving spouse benefits, visit our Benefits Planner: If You Are A Survivor. We hope this helps.

          • Jeanne

            When my husband died in 2017 I was told to apply at age 60 for wido benefits, that if I wait until age 62, my reuce amount would be the higher amount and they would make me take mine. I called to apply. This rep told me not to apply, recommends waiting that I can appy for widow benefits even if I am older than 62, and because it is survivor benefit, the 62 rule doesnt apply to survivor benefits. Meaning app;ly for his when I turn 63, even though it is lower than mine I can take his , then swithc over to mine at age 67, tha I have a choice. which rep is giving me the correct information. I want to retire earlier using my deceased husband and let mine set until my FRA. I currently work full time and make too much money to receive anythng, without significantly reducing my hours of work.

          • Vonda V.

            Hi Jeanne, thank you for your question. If you are the (unmarried/single) widow of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can start receiving reduced survivor’s benefits as early as age 60 (50 if disabled). If you are also eligible for retirement benefits on your own record, 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. Check out our Survivors Planner under “A few other situations” for details on switching. We hope this helps.

  8. Jonica T.

    If a wife loses her husband, has kids with said husband, the kids should get a survivor benefit. As well as the wife. If the wife remarries, do the kids that are getting survivor benefits, still get their benefits?

  9. Amy J.

    If you’re within the eligibility guidelines to collect social security after the death of an individual, how is the process/eligibility affected if that persons manner of death was suicide?
    I am working on a university paper and I am finding conflicting information. Thank You.

  10. Clair H.

    I am married to a filipina and presently live in the Philippines and collect social security. I am working on getting a visa for my wife to come with me to the states. I see that survivor benefits for wives require a social security number as part of the application form. She does not have a U.S. social security number. My question is would she need that SS # to collect survivors benefits if I die or do we need to live in the U.S. for a certain length of time?

Comments are closed.