What to know about Social Security survivor benefits

Multi-generational family in garden

Key Points

  • Social Security survivor benefits can provide your family with financial support after you pass away.
  • Your spouse may collect either survivor benefits or their own retirement benefits — whichever amount is higher.
  • Your Ameriprise advisor will help you navigate your survivor benefits to determine what makes sense for you and your family.

Social Security survivor benefits could be available to your spouse, children or parents when you pass away. Given these benefits are an important part of your family’s financial protection, your advisor will provide personalized advice for your situation.


How much could your family receive?

Survivor benefits can provide your family members up to 100% of your eligible retirement benefit.

As a married couple, one spouse is likely eligible for a higher Social Security benefit than the other. When you pass away, your surviving spouse is entitled to up to 100% of the larger amount. To maximize their survivor benefits, it may make sense for your spouse to delay collecting (if possible). This also means that in a dual Social Security household, after the passing of the first person, the lower of the two Social Security benefit amounts will go away.  

Survivor benefits are also available, under certain circumstances, to your children, a surviving divorced spouse or your parents. The amount each can receive depends on several factors, including age, marital status and the maximum family limit.


Survivor benefits eligibility

When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you automatically earn Social Security “credits.” The credits are based on the amount of your earnings. When you earn the required number of credits, you’re eligible for certain types of Social Security benefits, including retirement and survivor benefits.


Options for spouse survivor benefits

Your surviving spouse can:

  • Collect reduced benefits starting as early as age 60. (In certain cases, such as disability or dependent children, the age restriction may not apply.)
  • Begin collecting full benefits at full retirement age.
  • Apply for survivor benefits if the amount is higher than their own Social Security retirement benefits.

If your spouse’s situation allows for it, postponing collection can result in greater lifetime benefits. Your advisor can help navigate the options and ensure your spouse receives the most benefits available.


Talk with your advisor about survivor benefits

Social Security survivor benefits offer your family important financial support after you pass away. Your advisor can help you determine which specific benefits apply to your situation. They will provide personalized advice — such as whether your spouse might gain by delaying collection — to help maximize the benefit amount available to your family.