What to know about Social Security survivors benefits

When a loved one dies, Social Security survivors benefits can help supplement other financial assets in the family.

While it may be uncomfortable to imagine a scenario where you (or your family members) may need such payments, it’s also an important program to understand.

Here’s what you need to know:

What are Social Security survivors benefits and who can receive them?

Survivors benefits may be paid to qualified family members of an eligible worker who has died. The benefit amount depends on the deceased person’s average lifetime earnings. Higher earnings generate higher benefits.

Qualifying survivors include:

  • A widow or widower who is age 60+ years (or age 50+ years and disabled).
  • A widow or widower (at any age) caring for the deceased’s child (who is under the age of 16 or disabled).
  • A surviving divorced spouse (under certain circumstances).
  • A dependent parent who is age 62+.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is one of the following:
    • Under age 18 (or up to age 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school).
    • 18+ years old with a disability that occurred before age 22.

There is a cap — a maximum family amount — for a surviving spouse and children under age 18. The family maximum rules are complex and affect beneficiaries in different ways. Visit ssa.gov to learn more.  

What are considerations for spouses?

An individual who claims Social Security retirement benefits as young as age 62 will receive a reduced amount compared to if they waited until full retirement age (FRA is based on your birth year) or the maximum amount at age 70.

When that person dies, their eligible spouse would receive the same reduced benefit amount. That’s why it’s important to discuss options together earlier in life.

Other circumstances for a surviving spouse to consider:

  • If you are already receiving your own Social Security retirement benefits, you would receive a survivors benefit only if the amount is higher than your current retirement payment.
  • You can apply for survivors benefits when eligible and later switch to your own retirement benefit amount if it’s higher.
  • You cannot receive both retirement and survivors benefits concurrently.

What is a Social Security death payment?

An eligible spouse or child may receive a one-time payment of $255. They must apply for it within two years of the worker’s death.

We’re here to help

As your financial advisor, we understand your financial goals and needs. If you lose a loved one, know that we’re here to help and guide you through the process of applying for Social Security survivors benefits.