Social Security Benefits for the Surviving Family

Qualify & Apply

Definition of survivors benefits When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, certain members of the family may be eligible for survivors benefits. Up to ten years of work is needed to be eligible for benefits, depending on the person's age at the time of death.

Who is eligible for survivors benefits?

Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:

A widow or widower -- full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60 
A disabled widow or widower -- as early as age 50 
A widow or widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased's child who is under age 16 or disabled, and receiving Social Security benefits 
Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children. 
Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. 
Dependent parents age 62 or older 

How work affects survivors benefits

You can receive Social Security survivors benefits and work at the same time. However, depending on your age, your benefits could be reduced if you earn more than certain amounts. For more information, we recommend our leaflet, How Work Affects Your Benefits, publication number 05-10069.

How divorce affects survivors benefits 

If your divorced spouse dies, you can receive benefits as a widow/widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or longer and you are age 60 or older (or age 50 if you are disabled.) Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse who is 60 or older (age 50 if disabled) will not affect the benefit rates for other survivors receiving benefits.

How remarriage affects survivors benefits

In general, you cannot receive survivors benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 unless the latter marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment. If you remarry after age 60 (50 if disabled), you can still collect benefits on your former spouse's record. When you reach age 62 or older, you may get retirement benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher. 

Your remarriage would have no effect on the benefits being paid to your children.

How retirement affects survivors' benefits

If you are collecting survivors benefits, you can switch to your own retirement benefits (assuming you are eligible and your retirement rate is higher than the widow/widower's rate) as early as age 62. 

In many cases, you can begin receiving retirement benefits either on your own or your spouse's record at age 62 and then switch to the other benefit when you reach full retirement age, if that amount is higher.

How to apply Call our toll-free number, 1-800-772-1213. If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call our toll-free "TTY" number, 1-800-325-0778. 

Call or visit your local Social Security Office. 

Be sure to bring your checkbook or other papers that show your account number at a bank, credit union or other financial institution, so you can have your benefits deposited directly into your account. Direct deposit protects you from loss or theft of your check, and mail delays. The money is always on time and ready for you to use without a trip to the bank.

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