Social Security Survivor Benefits Guide

Survivor Benefits

When you die, members of your family may be eligible for benefits based on your earnings. If your spouse dies, you and your children may be able to receive benefits if your spouse or former spouse worked long enough under Social Security. 

Who Can Receive Survivor Benefits?

Widows and Widowers

They must be:

  • 60 or older.
  • 50 or older if disabled.
  • Any age if she or he takes care of a child of the deceased who is younger than age 16 or disabled.

Divorced Widows and Widowers

  They must be:

  • 60 or older if the marriage to the deceased lasted at least 10 years.
  • 50 or older if disabled and the marriage to the deceased lasted at least 10 years.
  • Any age if she or he takes care of a child of the deceased who is younger than age 16 or disabled.

Unmarried Children

They must be:

  • Younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time)
  • Any age and were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.

Special Cases Where Other Family Members Are Eligible

Special cases may apply in this scenario. Under certain circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren, step grandchildren or adopted children, can also receive survivor benefits. Dependent parents age 62 or older who receive at least 50% support from the deceased can receive benefits. 

 If the surviving spouse remarries after the age of 60, or 50 if disabled, the eligibility for survivors benefits will not be affected. 

How To Apply

Surviving spouse, or surviving divorced spouses cannot apply online for survivors benefits. They should contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment, this number is also used to report a death. You can also call or visit your local Social Security office.

If you are already receiving benefits on your deceased spouse’s record. SSA will automatically change your monthly benefits to receive survivors benefits after they receive the report of death. 

In many cases, the funeral home will report the person’s death to Social Security. Give the funeral home their Social Security number, if you wish for them to make the report. 

Documents And Information Needed

Widow or Widowers:

  • Proof of the worker's death
  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States [More Info]
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968;
  • For disability benefits, the two forms (SSA-3368 and SSA-827) that describe your medical condition and authorize disclosure of information to us
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year;
  • Final divorce decree, if applying as a surviving divorced spouse; and
  • Marriage certificate

Children: 

  • The child's birth certificate or other proof of birth or adoption.
  • Proof of the worker’s marriage to the child’s natural or adoptive parent if the child is the worker’s stepchild
  • Proof of the child’s U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if the child was not born in the United States [More Info]
  • W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax returns if the child had earnings last year; and
  • If the worker is deceased, proof of the worker’s death and U.S. military discharge paper(s).

Mothers or Fathers:

  • Proof of the worker’s death
  • Your birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s)
  • W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year.
  • Proof of marriage
  • Final divorce decree if applying as a surviving divorced mother or father
  • Child’s birth certificate or other proof of birth.

Parents Dependent on Children:

  • A birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States 
  • U.S. military discharge paper(s) if you had military service before 1968
  • W-2 forms(s) and/or self-employment tax returns for last year
  • A death certificate for the deceased child.

Survivor Benefit Amount

These are examples of the benefits that survivors may receive

Widow or widower, full retirement age or older100%
Widow or widower, age 60 — full retirement age71.5 to 99%
Disabled widow or widower aged 50 through 5971.5%
Widow or widower, any age, caring for a child under age 1675%
A child under age 18 (19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or disabled75%

Dependent parent(s) of the deceased worker, age 62 or older

One surviving parent82.5%
Two surviving parents75% to each Parent

Percentages for a surviving divorced spouse would be the same as above.

Special, Lump-Sum Death Payment

A one-time payment of $255 can be made only to a spouse or child if they meet certain requirements. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death. In some cases, if you are already receiving benefits on your deceased spouse’s record, this lump sum may be automatically applied. 

Maximum Family Amount

Family members are limited to a certain amount they can receive each month. It’s generally equal to between 150 to 180 percent of the basic benefit rate. If the sum payable is greater than its limit, the benefits will be reduced proportionately.  

Situations Where Survivor Benefits Are Subject To Tax

Up to 85 percent of survivors benefits received may be taxable. This depends on many factors, but for the most part, it’s the income test. If any additional income exists, but it's below $25,000, benefits won't be taxed. If it’s between $25,001 and $34,000, 50% of the survivor benefit is taxable.

Other Social Security Benefit Guides

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Social Security AccountTips & advice with your social security account
Social Security CardsGet a new card or replace a lost or stolen one
Survivor BenefitsRead the GuideThe current article you are reading
Government Benefits GuidesLists of most common government benefits, requirements to qualify and how to apply