Survivors' Benefits

The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers survivor’s benefits to help those who have lost a spouse, parent, or supporting child. Death isn’t something anyone wants to think about, but planning for it could save your family lots of stress when it does happen.

Part of the Social Security taxes you pay go towards survivor insurance. If you’ve paid into Social Security long enough, your accumulated survivor insurance could be more than a life insurance policy. Generally, in order for your family to this benefit, you need to have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least ten years.

There is also a special rule that could allow the SSA to pay benefits to your children and a spouse caring for the children if you worked for one-half of the three years before your death. If you are already receiving retirement or disability benefits, the SSA could continue to pay qualifying survivors that amount.

To qualify for benefits, surviving spouses must be the guardian of a child under 16 or a disabled child under 22. They can start receiving reduced benefits at 60, and full benefits that the survivors retirement age of 66 or 67. Disabled spouses can qualify at 50.

Unmarried children under 18, 19 if they’re still in high school, can claim survivor’s benefits. If your disabled child is over 18, he or she will qualify if they became disabled before 22 years of age. Under special circumstances, the SSA may be able to pay benefits to stepchildren, adopted children, grandchildren, or step grandchildren.

Divorced spouses can also qualify in certain situations. If you were married for at least 10 years, your spouse can get benefits starting at 60 years old, or 50 if disabled. If your ex-spouse is caring for your child that is under 16 or disabled and entitled on your record, then he or she will also receive benefits.

In some cases, your parents can also get benefits if you provide one-half or more of their financial support. They both need to be at least 62 years old. The SSA may also pay a lump fee of $255 after you’ve died to your spouse or children if they meet certain requirements and you’ve worked long enough. They need to apply for this within two years of your death.

To apply, you can go online to the SSA’s website, call them at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778), or visit your local office. You need to report the death to them, which either you can do or the funeral parlor can do if you give them the social security number. You also need social security numbers for you and any dependents, a marriage certificate or divorce papers, and other personal and financial documentation.