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In addition to providing Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and Retirement Income (SSRI) benefits to immediate relatives of workers insured under Social Security while the worker is still alive, Social Security provides benefits to a surviving spouse, ex-spouse, child, or parent of an insured worker.

The worker must have earned enough credits for a survivor to qualify.

The amount of benefit varies. There is a maximum payable per family. If the survivor works, the amount of the benefit may be reduced.

Surviving widows and widowers can switch to their own benefits when it is worth doing so.

Remarrying generally terminates survivors benefits, except for older survivors.

If a survivor is or becomes eligible for more than one benefit: a higher benefit in an amount less than the total of two benefits is payable. For example, a widow's benefit combined with a person's own Social Security Retirement.

There is a one time payment to survivors to help with burial expenses.

You can apply for Survivors Benefits by telephone or at a local Social Security office.

For more information, see:

Who Can Get Survivors Benefits?

Survivors benefits are payable after an eligible worker dies to:

Widow or Widower

  • Widow or widower: Whether full benefits or a lesser amount are payable to a widow/er depends on the widow/er's date of birth. Full benefits are payable at age 65 or older if the widower/er was born before 1938. Reduced benefits are payable as early as age 60.

The age for receiving full benefits gradually increases for people born after 1937 until it reaches age 67 for people born in 1960 and later. See Social Security Retirement (SSR).

  • Disabled widow/er - A disabled widow/er can get benefits beginning at age 50. NOTE: The surviving spouse's benefits may be reduced if he or she also receives a pension from a job for which Social Security taxes were not withheld. For more information, see the Social Security: Government Pension Offset (Publication No. 05-10007) offsite link, available at: offsite link
  • Widow/er who takes care of a workers child under age 16 or who is disabled: Can receive benefits at any age.

Surviving Divorced Spouses

  • A divorced wife or husband of an eligible worker can get benefits under the same circumstances as a widow(er) if the marriage lasted 10 years or more.
  • The former spouse does not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule if she or he is caring for a natural or legally adopted child of the eligible worker who is under 16 or disabled and who is also getting benefits on the worker's Social Security record.
  • Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse who is age 60 or older (50-60 if disabled) will not affect the benefit rates for other survivors getting benefits.


  • Unmarried children under 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time) can receive survivors benefits.
  • Disabled adult children can get benefits at any age if the child is disabled before age 22 and continues to remain disabled.
  • Stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children: Under certain circumstances, benefits also can be paid.

Dependent Parents Age 62 or older

Parents can collect a Social Security benefit if an eligible worker dies with parents who are dependent on him or her for more than one half of their support.

Social Security pays monthly benefits to parents on the record of a deceased worker under the following conditions:

  • The parent must be at least 62 years old and must not have remarried since the worker's death.
  • The parent cannot be entitled to his or her own, higher Social Security benefit.
  • The parent must be able to show that he or she was receiving one-half of his or her financial support from the worker at the time of death. Proof of support must be submitted to Social Security within two years of the worker's death.

Credits A Worker Has To Earn In Order For A Survivor To Qualify For Benefits

Employees accumulate "work credits" each year by having F.I.C.A. taxes taken out of their salary and paid into the Social Security system. A maximum of 4 credits can be earned each year (See Social Security Retirement (SSR) for more information on earning work credits.)

If the worker earns enough work credits before dying, survivors benefits will be available The number of credits needed for survivors to receive benefits depends on the age of the worker when he or she dies, as well as the relationship of the survivor to the worker.

The younger a worker is, fewer work credits are needed for family members to be eligible for survivors benefits. The following chart shows the worker's year of birth and credits needed:

Year of Birth

Credits Needed

1929 or later












Nobody, regardless of age or relationship to the worker, needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefits.

  • Children: For children to be eligible for survivor benefits, the worker must have earned six (6) work credits during the twelve (12) quarters (3 years) prior to the worker's death.

  • Widow/er: For a widow/er to be eligible, the worker must have been Fully Insured at the time of the worker's death. If, however, the widow/er is caring for the worker's children, then the "six out of twelve" rule used for children will apply. (To learn more about Fully Insured, see: Social Security Retirement.)

What If I Work?

Wages and earnings will reduce only the working survivor's benefits, not the benefits of other family members.

Your benefit amount will only be reduced until you reach your full retirement age.

Social Security uses the following formula to determine how much your benefit must be reduced:

  • If you are under full retirement age when you begin receiving your Social Security benefits, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $2 you earn above the annual limit. For 2010, that limit is $14,160.
  • In the year you reach full retirement age, $1 in benefits will be deducted for each $3 you earn above a different limit, but only for the months before the month you reach the full retirement age. For 2010, this limit is $37,680. Starting with the month you reach full retirement age, you can receive your full benefits with no limit on your earnings.

Following are examples of how the rules would affect you if you are a working survivor:

  • Let's say you begin receiving Social Security benefits at age 62 in January 2010 and you're entitled to $600 a month ($7,200 for the year). During the year, you work and earn $20,000 ($5,840 over the $14,160 limit). Social Security will withhold $2,920 of your Social Security benefits ($1 for every $2 you earn over the limit), but you would still receive $4,280 in benefits.
  • Now, let's say you reach full retirement age in August 2010. You earned $38,400 in the seven months from January through July. During this period, the amount of benefits Social Security withholds would be $720 ($1 for every $4 you earned above the $37,680 limit.)

Starting in August (when you reach 65), you would begin receiving your full benefits, no matter how much you earn.

What Income Counts:

If you work for someone else:

  • Only your wages count toward Social Security's earnings limits. Social Security doesn't count non-work income such as other government benefits, investment earnings, interest, pensions, annuities and capital gains.

If you're self-employed:

  • Social Security counts only your net earnings from self-employment. Social Security doesn't count non-work income such as other government benefits, investment earnings, interest, pensions, annuities and capital gains.

When the Income Counts:

If you work for someone else:

  • Income counts when it is earned, not when it is paid. If you have income that you earned in one year but the payment is deferred to the following year, it should not be counted as earnings for the year you receive it. Some examples of deferred income include accumulated sick or vacation pay and bonuses.

If you are self-employed:

  • Income counts when you receive it--not when you earn it -- except if it is paid in a year after you become entitled to Social Security and was earned before you became entitled to Social Security.
  • For example, if you start getting Social Security in June 2010 and you receive some money in February 2011 for work you did before June, it will not count against your 2010 earnings limit. However, if the money you receive in February 2011 was for work you did after June, it will count against your 2010 earnings limit.
  • Social Security considers whether you perform substantial services in your business. One measure of your service is the amount of time you spend working. In general, if you work more than 45 hours a month in self-employment, you are not retired. If you work less than 15 hours a month, you are retired. Work between 15 and 45 hours a month may be considered substantial if you work in an occupation that requires a lot of skill or you are managing a sizable business.

Retirement Benefits For Widow/ers

If a survivor receives benefits as a widow/er (including divorced widow/ers), and is eligible for his or her own benefits, the survivor can switch to his or her own retirement benefit as early as age 62 – which is worthwhile doing when a person’s own rate exceeds the benefit receivable as a survivor. For example, a widow could take early retirement at age 62 under her deceased husband’s work history for a reduced benefit. Assuming she also qualifies for Social Security on her own work history, at age 65 she can apply for full retirement benefits under her own work history and realize an increased benefit instead of having to continue the discounted early retirement benefit.

The rules are complicated and vary depending on the survivor’s situation. Questions about the available options should be addressed to a Social Security representative. You can call: 800.772.1213.

Special One-Time Death Benefit for Survivors

There is a special one-time payment of a total of $255 payable to the f the widow/er who was living in the same household as the worker when the worker died. If there is no such person, the money is payable to:

  • A surviving spouse who is not divorced from the worker who was not living with the deceased worker at time of death, providing he or she was entitled to or eligible for benefits as a widow/er, mother, or father for the month the worker died. If there is no such person, the money is payable to:

  • Child/ren of the deceased worker. The child must have been eligible for benefits on the deceased's earnings record for the month the worker died. In the case of several children, each one is eligible for an equal share of the lump sum. If one or more of the children choose not to apply, those children who do apply may be paid only their proportionate share of the lump sum. The unpaid balance will remain unpaid unless those children who originally chose not to apply later decide to do so.

NOTE: Application for the lump-sum death payment must be filed within the 2-year period ending with the second anniversary of the insured worker’s death benefit.

Amount Of Benefits Survivors Receive

How much survivors can get from Social Security depends on the worker's average lifetime earnings. The amount of your benefit is based on the earnings of the person who died, so the higher the worker's earnings, the higher the survivors benefits will be.

The amount survivors get is a percentage of the deceased's basic Social Security benefit. The amount of the percentage depends on the survivors' age and the type of benefit for which the survivor is eligible. The most typical situations are:

  • Widow or widower, age 65 or older: 100% of the worker's benefit
  • Widow or widower age 60-64: Varies, between 71% and 94%
  • Widow, any age, with a child under age 16: 75%
  • Children: 75%

For an estimate of the Social Security survivors benefits that could be paid to your survivors, use Form SSA-7004 (Request for Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement.) You can obtain a copy of the form by calling 800.882.1213 or online at:

Within four to six weeks after you return the completed form, you will receive a statement showing an estimate of survivors benefits that could be paid, as well as an estimate of retirement and disability benefits and other important information. There is no charge for this service.

Family Maximum Benefit

There is a limit to the amount of money that can be paid to survivors and other family members each month. The limit varies, but is generally equal to about 150% to 180% of the deceased's benefit rate. If the sum of the benefits payable to the family members is greater than this limit, the benefits will be reduced proportionately.

What If I Remarry?

Generally, you can't get survivors benefits if you remarry. However, if you remarry after age 60, or after age 50 if you are disabled, your remarriage will not prevent benefit payments on your former spouse's record. Plus, at age 62 or older, you may get benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.

How To Apply For Survivors Benefits If You Aren't Currently Getting Social Security Benefits

We suggest that you apply for survivors benefits promptly because, in some cases, benefits may not be retroactive. You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office.

Social Security will need certain information to process your application. It's helpful if you have it when you apply. However, don't delay applying if you don't have everything. Social Security will help you get it.

Social Security needs either original documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them of:

  • Proof of death - either from a funeral home or a death certificate.
  • Social Security number for the survivor as well as the deceased worker.
  • Survivor's birth certificate.
  • A marriage certificate if the survivor is a widow or widower.
  • Divorce papers if the survivor is applying as a surviving divorced spouse.
  • If filing as a dependent child, Social Security numbers, if available, for each child.
  • The deceased worker's W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year.
  • The name of the survivor's bank and account number so benefits can be directly deposited into your account. (See Alternative Ways To Receive Social Security Benefits.)

How To Apply For Survivors Benefits If You're Already Getting Social Security Benefits

If you're getting benefits as a wife or husband on your spouse's record when he or she dies, you should report the death to Social Security. Social Security will change your payments to survivors benefits.

If you're getting benefits on your own record, you'll need to complete an application to get survivors benefits. Call or visit Social Security. (Tel.: 800 772.1213) The Social Security employee will check to see if you can get more money as a widow/er. Social Security will need to see your spouse's death certificate to process your claim.

Benefits for any children will automatically be changed to survivors benefits after the death is reported to Social Security.

NOTE: Social Security has a goal to work with survivors to see that you receive the highest benefit for which you are eligible.