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Social Security Survivor Benefits

Who Gets Social Security Survivor Benefits?

When loved ones pass away, there are lots of considerations, including what happens to their Social Security.

The decedent’s payments need to be stopped, but survivor benefits may be available to the surviving spouse, surviving divorced spouse unmarried child/children, or even dependent parents.

When a Social Security Recipient Dies

Social Security benefits stop at death. If a loved one who was receiving Social Security dies, you need to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Often the funeral home does this as one of its services, but if not, you can notify Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213 or contacting your local Social Security office. At this time, you cannot report the loved one’s death online or apply for survivors benefit online.

Benefits are not paid for the month the recipient dies and are not prorated. So, even if the recipient dies in the middle or end of the month, Social Security will not pay any benefits for that month. If the Social Security Administration is not notified on time and makes a payment, that payment will have to be returned. Do not cash any checks received for the month of death or later. Contact the bank if you know where the checks were being directly deposited and request the funds be returned to the Social Security Administration.

Death Benefit

A surviving spouses or, if no spouse, then to the loved one’s child/children, may receive a one-time lump-sum payment of $255 if they were either:

  1. living with the decedent in the same household at the time of death; or
  2. if they were living apart, during the month the decedent died, the surviving spouse or child were either collecting benefits on the decedent’s record or became eligible for benefits upon the worker’s death.

If the surviving spouse or child is not currently receiving benefits, they must proactively apply for this payment within 2 years from the date of death of the decedent.

Survivor Benefits

In addition to the lump-sum death benefit, certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly survivor benefits, including the following:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if they have a disability).
  • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances.
  • A widow or widower at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or has a disability and is receiving child’s benefits.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school) or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.
  • Under certain circumstances:
    • A stepchild, grandchild, step grandchild, or adopted child.
    • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support. Dependent parents receive 75 percent each or 82.5 percent if there is only one parent.

The Surviving Spouse

If the spouse has reached full retirement age when the decedent died, then the spouse begins receiving the decedent’s actual benefits. This is true even if the decedent and spouse were divorced, so long as they had been married for at least 10 years.

While a spouse can claim survivor’s benefits as early as age 60, the benefits will be permanently reduced. If the surviving spouse claims benefits between age 60 and full retirement age, he or she receives a reduced percentage of the decedent’s benefits. At age 60, the spouse will receive 71.5 percent of the actual benefits.

If the spouse waits to collect, this percentage increases each year until the spouse reaches full retirement age, at which point he or she can receive 100 percent of the actual benefits.

A surviving spouse who is age 50 to 59 also receives 71.5 percent of the actual benefits. However, the spouse must have a disability and the disability existed before or within 7 years of the loved one’s death.

Survivors benefits are available for spouses (not re-married), regardless of age, who are caring for a the spouse’s child (under age of 16 or disabled) and the decedent’s dependents may receive 75 percent of the decedent’s actual benefit.

If a surviving spouse receives a survivors benefit and will qualify for their own retirement benefit that’s more than their survivor’s benefit, they can elect/switch to take their own retirement benefit as early as 62 or by age 70. The rules depend on the situation, and it is advised to at least speak with the Social Security representative as it applies to your case.

If a surviving spouse, including a divorced spouse, remarries before turning age 60, then the spouse is no longer eligible for benefits unless the new marriage ends. Spouses who remarry after age 60 are still eligible for survivor’s benefits.

If you would like to speak with an experienced elder law attorney regarding your situation or have questions about something you have read, please do not hesitate to contact our office at 1 (800) 680-1717. We look forward to the opportunity to work with you.

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