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Who is eligible to receive Social Security survivors benefits and how do I apply?

Children, spouses, ex-spouses, and parents of a deceased worker are eligible for Survivor benefits. Here is how much they are entitled to every month.

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The Social Security Survivors benefit is the government’s way of providing support to widows, widowers, and dependents of deceased workers. This benefit provides monthly payments to families of workers who paid their Social Security taxes before they died. 

Who is eligible for Social Security survivors benefits?

You may be eligible for the Social Security Survivors benefit if you are a spouse, ex-spouse, child, or parent of a deceased worker. However, you must meet the following criteria.

For spouses: 

  • You are 60 years or older, or between ages 50 and 59 if you have a disability.
  • You were married to the deceased for at least 9 months before their death.
  • You didn’t remarry before age 60 (or 50 years if you have a disability).

For ex-spouses:

  • You were married to the deceased for at least 10 years, or had a valid non-marital legal relationship with them before they died.

There are instances where you might be eligible for a Social Security Survivors Benefit regardless of your age and how long you were married. For examples, if you’re a guardian for a child of the deceased.

For children: 

As a child of the deceased, you are eligible for a Social Security Survivors benefit if you:

  • Are unmarried 
  • Are 17 years or younger 
  • Are 18–19 years and a full-time student 
  • Developed a disability at 21 years or younger

Social Security can also pay benefits to stepchildren, married children, adopted children, grandchildren, and step grandchildren, under certain circumstances. 

For parents: 

As parent(s) of the deceased, you are eligible to the Social Security Survivors Benefit if you are 62 years or older, and if you were financially dependent on your child before they died. 

How much can you get from Social Security survivors benefit?

Survivors Benefits are paid monthly. The amount varies depending your age and relationship with the person who died. 

For spouses and ex-spouses: 

Payment of benefits for spouses and ex-spouses start from 71.5% of the dead spouse’s benefits. The longer you wait to apply, the more money you get.

You can get up to 100% benefits when you get to your Full Retirement Age for Survivor benefits (that is, ages 66–67). 

For children:

Children are entitled to 75% of their deceased parent’s benefits. 

However, there is a limit to how much a family can get in Survivors benefits. This limit is called the ‘family maximum’. Social Security may lower everyone’s payments to ensure it doesn’t exceed this limit. Ex-spouses are exempted from this.

Furthermore, family members can get a one-time death benefit payment of $255 if they apply within 2 years of the person’s death. This is called the Lump-sum death payment.

How to apply for Social Security survivors benefits? 

If you are already getting Family benefits, you do not need to apply separately for Survivors benefits as your benefit type and amount will be updated automatically. 

If you are not already getting Family benefits, call 800-772-1213 (800-325-0778, if you’re deaf or hard of hearing). Inform the agent on duty that you want to apply for benefits. They will schedule an appointment for you physically or on phone. Consistently monitor your application process. You will receive your first benefit payment a month after the month you selected during your application process.

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