The following information is designed to assist you in understanding your eligibility for Social Security Benefits and how to proceed when filing a claim for Social Security Benefits. If you do not find the information you are looking for here, more information is available from the Social Security Administration web site, www.ssa.gov
If You're Working ...What You Need To Know About Survivors Benefits
"Life Insurance" From Social Security
Many people think of Social Security as a retirement program, but retirement benefits are just one facet of the Social Security program.
Some of the Social Security taxes you pay go towards survivors' insurance. In fact, the value of the survivors insurance you have under Social Security is probably more than the value of your individual life insurance.
When someone who has worked and paid into Social Security dies, survivor benefits can be paid to certain family members. These include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children, and dependent parents.
You, along with millions of other people, earn survivors insurance by working and paying Social Security taxes. Right now, 98 out of every 100 children could get benefits if a working parent should die. In fact, Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other federal program.
How Do You Earn Survivors Benefits?
When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for survivors benefits if you worked, paid Social Security taxes, and earned enough "credits." You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. The number of credits you need depends on your age when you die. The younger a person is, the fewer credits he or she needs to have family members meet the eligibility requirements for survivors benefits. But no one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefits.
Under a special rule, benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for the children, even though you do not have the number of credits needed. They can get benefits if you have credit for one and one half years of work in the three years just before your death.
Who Can Get Survivors Benefits?
When you die, Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to your:
widow or widower - full benefits at 65 or older (if born before 1940) or reduced benefits as early as age 60. (The age for receiving full benefits gradually increases for persons born after 1939 until it reaches age 67 for persons born in 1962 and later.) A disabled widow or widower can get benefits at 50-60. The surviving spouse's benefits may be reduced if he or she also receives a pension from a job where Social Security taxes were not withheld.
widow or widower at any age if she or he takes care of your child under 16 or disabled who get benefits;
unmarried children under 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time). Your child can get benefits at any age if he or she was disabled before age 22 and remained disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits also can be paid to your stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children; or
dependent parents at 62 or older.
Special One-Time Death Benefit
There is a special one-time payment of $255 that can be made when you die if you have enough work "credits." This payment can be made only to your spouse or minor children if they meet certain requirements.
Benefits for Surviving Divorced Spouses
If you've been divorced, your former wife or husband can get benefits under the same circumstances as your widow or widower if your marriage lasted 10 years or more. Your former spouse, however, does not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule if she or he is caring for your child who is under 16 or disabled and who is also getting benefits on your Social Security record. The child must be your former spouse's natural or legally adopted child.
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.
How Much Are Benefits?
How much your family can get from Social Security depends on your average lifetime earnings. That means the higher your earnings, the higher their benefits will be.
If A Loved One Had Died...What You Need To Know About Survivors' Benefits
How Do I Apply For Benefits?
How you sign up for survivors benefits depends on whether or not you're getting other Social Security benefits.
If You Aren't Getting Social Security Benefits
You should 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.
The Social Security representative will need certain information to process your application. It is helpful if you have it when you apply. But don't delay applying if you don't have everything; a Social Security representative can help you obtain the necessary materials. They need either original documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them.
The information needed includes:
Proof of death - either from funeral home or death certificate;
Your Social Security number, as well as the worker's;
Your birth certificate;
Your marriage certificate if you're a widow or widower;
Your divorce papers if you're applying as a surviving divorced spouse;
Dependent children's Social Security numbers, if available;
Deceased worker's W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year; and
The name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be directly deposited into your account.
If You Are Already Receiving 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 and they will change your payments to survivors benefits. If they need more information, a Social Security representative will contact you
If you're getting benefits on your own record, you'll need to complete an application to get survivors benefits. Call or visit a Social Security Office and they will check to see if you can get more money as a widow or widower. A Social Security representative will need to see a certified copy of your spouse's death certificate to process your claim. The certified copy can then be returned to you.
Benefits for any children will automatically be changed to survivors benefits after the death is reported. A Social Security representative will contact you if they need more information.
How Much Will I Receive?
The amount of your benefit is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits will be.
The amount you will get is a percentage of the deceased's basic Social Security benefit. The percentage depends on your age and the type of benefit you are eligible for. Here are the most typical situations.
widow or widower, age 65 or older - 100 percent;
widow or widower age, 60-64 - about 71-94 percent;
widow, any age, with a child under age 16 - 75 percent; or
children - 75 percent
Maximum Family Benefits
There is a limit to the amount of money that can be paid to you and other family members each month. The limit varies, but is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent 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.
Retirement Benefits For Widow(ers)
If you are receiving widows or widowers (including divorced widows or widowers) benefits, you should remember that you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes that you are eligible and your retirement rate is higher than your widow(er) rate. In many cases, a widow(er) can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate at age 65. The rules are complicated and vary depending on your situation, so you should talk to a one of the Social Security representatives about the options available to you.
What If I Work?
If you get Social Security survivors benefits, the amount of your benefits may be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits. There's no earnings limit once you reach age 70. Your earnings will reduce only your survivors benefits, not the benefits of other family members.
What If I Remarry?
Generally, you can't get survivors benefits if you remarry. But, remarriage after age 60 (50 if disabled) will not prevent benefit payments on your former spouse's record. And, at age 62 or older, you may get benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.
A Word About Medicare
Medicare is a health insurance plan for people who are age 65 or older. People who are disabled or have kidney failure also can get Medicare. Medicare has two parts: hospital insurance and medical insurance. Most people have both parts. Hospital insurance, sometimes called Part A, covers inpatient hospital care and certain follow-up care. The worker already paid for it as part of his or her Social Security taxes while he or she was working. Medical insurance, sometimes called Part B, pays for physicians' services and some other services not covered by hospital insurance. Medical insurance is optional, and you must pay a premium. Some people are already getting Social Security benefits when they turn 65, and their Medicare starts automatically. Others must file an application. For more information, call the Health Care Financing Administration at 1-800 MEDICAR(E) and ask for a copy of the handbook, "Medicare and You". You also can visit the website at www.medicare.gov