The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a one-time death benefit of $255 upon the death of a person who has worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, even if the deceased was not receiving benefits at the time of death. SSA will only pay the benefit to an eligible spouse or child.
Members of a deceased worker's family may be eligible for survivor's benefits based on his or her work record and earned Social Security credits. The required number of earnings credits usually is based on the worker's age at death. In general, younger workers need fewer earnings credits than older workers. No worker needs more than 40 earnings credits (10 years of work) to be fully insured for any Social Security benefit.
Social Security survivor's benefits can be paid to:
- May be able to receive full benefits at retirement age (66-67), or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
- Disabled spouses may receive benefits as early as age 50.
- A spouse may receive benefits if they care for a disabled child or a child receiving Social Security benefits and are younger than age 16.
- Unmarried children up to age 19 if attending elementary or high school full time; to age 18 if not attending school.
- Disabled children, if disabled before the age of 22 and remain disabled.
- Under certain circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren, adopted children receive benefits.
- Dependent parents aged 62 or older receiving at least ½ of their support from the deceased.
- Divorced spouse:
- Aged 60 or older (50-59 if disabled) can receive benefits if the marriage lasted more than 10 years. The former spouse does not need to meet the age limits if they are caring for a child under the age of 16, or disabled.
How much do you receive?
There's a limit to the amount that family members can receive each month. The limit varies, but it is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of the deceased's worker benefit rate. If the sum of the benefits payable to family members is greater than this limit, the benefits will be reduced proportionately. (Any benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse based on disability or age won't count toward this maximum amount.)
The following provides the most typical situations:
- Widow or widower full retirement age or older: 100 percent of worker's basic benefit amount.
- Widow or widower age 60 or older, but under full retirement age: 71 to 94 percent of worker's basic benefit amount.
- Widow or widower at any age with a child under age 16: 75 percent of worker's basic benefit amount.
- Children under 19: 75 percent of worker's basic benefit amount.
How to apply for benefits?
You can apply for Social Security benefits by telephone or in person at any Social Security office. You will be required to provide certain documentation for the application to be completed. Be prepared to produce original or certified copies from the issuing agencies.
For more information, or to file for benefits, call 1.800.772.1213. You can also visit www.socialsecurity.gov.