What Are Survivor Benefits (and How It Works)

What are Survivor Benefits? Learn how SSA Survivors Benefits work, who is eligible, and how to apply in this simple guide. Find out if you qualify.

Mom Holding Hands with Child - Survivor Benefits

Survivor benefits provide financial assistance to the families of deceased workers who have contributed to the Social Security system. This income can help surviving family members meet their financial needs during difficult times.

Read on to learn about survivor benefits, how they work, who is eligible to receive them, and how to apply.

With this information, you can be sure your family is taken care of in the event of an unexpected death.

What Are Survivor Benefits?

Survivor benefits are monthly payments family members of a deceased worker can receive from the Social Security Administration. These payments are available to eligible spouses, children, and dependent parents. 

If you die, your family members may receive survivors benefits. To qualify for these benefits, you must have worked and paid taxes into Social Security. The payment amount depends on your earnings and work history. The higher your lifetime earnings, the greater the benefits. 

Who Is Eligible for Social Security Survivor Benefits?

According to the SSA, certain family members may qualify to receive monthly survivors benefits, including:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if they have a disability).
  • A widow or widower at any age caring for the deceased’s child. The child must be under age 16 or have a disability and receives benefits.
  • A surviving divorced spouse who meets other eligibility requirements.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is one of the following:
    • Younger than 18 (or up to 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school).
    • Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.
  • A stepchild, adopted child, grandchild, or step-grandchild (under certain circumstances).
  • Parents age 62 or older who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their income.

Also Read: SSDI Dependent Benefits: Top Things to Know

How Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Work?

If you are working and paying into Social Security, some taxes go toward survivors benefits. The more you pay into Social Security, the higher your benefits will be for eligible family members.

In the event of your death, your family could be eligible for benefits based on your earnings. However, you must have worked long enough to qualify for benefits.

For example, workers paying into the Social Security system earn up to four work credits a year. Once you reach 40 credits, your family members may be eligible for survivor benefits if you die. On average, it takes ten years to earn 40 credits. 

Each eligible survivor is entitled to a percentage of a deceased worker’s benefits, depending on their relationship. However, families cannot receive more than 150% of the deceased’s benefits. The SSA will reduce all benefit amounts proportionally if the sum of benefits exceeds the limit.

Note: In some cases, families of workers who die young or have less than 40 credits can still qualify for survivors benefits. Also, the SSA can pay benefits to your children and your spouse caring for your children under a special rule.

Also Read: How SSDI Work Credits Affect Your Benefits

How Long Do You Get Survivor Benefits?

The duration of Social Security survivor benefits depends on the relationship to the deceased worker. For example, benefits are payable to the surviving spouse for life or until eligible for retirement benefits greater than the survivor benefit.

Benefits for surviving children end at age 18 or age 19 if still pursuing elementary or secondary education. However, surviving children who became disabled before age 22 will collect benefits for life.

How Much Are Survivor Benefits?

The SSA bases the survivors benefit on a percentage of your earnings.

This table shows the benefits percentage survivors may receive:

Surviving Family Member% of the Workers Benefits
Widow or widower, full retirement age or older100% 
Widow or widower, age 60 or below71.5% to 99% 
Widow or widower with a disability aged 50 through 5971.5%
Widow or widower at any age, caring for a child under age 1675%
A child under age 18 or who has a disability75%
Dependent parent(s) of the deceased worker, age 62 or olderOne parent – 82.5%
Two parents – 75% each 
Source: SSA Website

Lump vs Monthly Social Security Survivor Benefits

The SSA can pay surviving family members in two ways: A lump sum or monthly payments.

  • Lump Sum: A surviving spouse or child may receive a lump-sum death payment of $255 if they meet the requirements.
  • Monthly Payments: Eligible family members may receive monthly or bi-monthly payments while eligible.

How to Apply for Survivor Benefits?

You should inform the Social Security Administration immediately when a loved one dies. However, you can not report the death online or apply for survivor benefits online.

If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can also contact your local Social Security office.

Note: The funeral home can also report the person’s death to the SSA. To make the report, you should give the deceased’s Social Security number to the funeral home.

Please select the benefit you will apply for to see what information and documents you may need:

Evans Disability Can Help You Get Survivor Benefits. Call Us!

The disability attorneys at Evans Disability specialize in Social Security benefits. We help you obtain survivor benefits for your loved one’s death. Call us today at (855) 503-0101.

What Are Survivor Benefits FAQ

Common questions about Social Security Survivor Benefits.

Is There a Time Limit on Claiming Survivor Benefits?

If the eligible surviving spouse or child is not currently receiving benefits, they must apply for survivors benefits within two years of the death.

It’s best to notify the SSA when your loved one dies as soon as possible. 

How Long Does It Take To Start Getting Survivor Benefits?

According to the SSA, it can take 30 to 60 days for survivors’ benefits payments to start after approval. 

How Much Does a Child Get for Survivor Benefits?

An eligible child can collect 75% of the deceased’s Social Security benefits. However, the child must be under age 18 (age 19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or have a disability.

How Long Does a Spouse Get for Survivors Benefits?

An eligible spouse will receive survivor benefits payments for life. However, these payments will end if the spouse begins collecting a retirement benefit greater than the survivor benefit.

What Is the Difference Between Survivor Benefits and Spousal Benefits?

Survivor benefits and spousal benefits are similar, but there are key differences. For example:

  • Spousal benefits can only start at age 62.
  • Survivor benefits can start at age 60.
  • Survivor benefits are also available to spouses taking care of the worker’s dependent minor children under the age of 16.
  • Spousal benefits cap at 50% of the living worker’s benefits.
  • Survivor benefits cap at 100% of the deceased worker’s benefits.

Also Read: How SSDI Spouse Benefits Affect Your Benefits