A Survivor’s Guide to Social Security
Social Security survivor’s benefits help ease the financial burden that follows a worker’s death. Almost all children under the age of 18 will get monthly benefits if a working parent dies. Other family members may be eligible for benefits too.
Anyone who has worked and paid Social Security (FICA) taxes has been earning Social Security benefits for his or her family. The amount of work needed to pay survivor’s benefits depends on the worker’s age at the time of death. It may be as little as 1.5 years for a young worker. No one needs more than 10 years.
Who Can Get Survivor’s Benefits?
- Widows and widowers age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled).
- Widows and widowers at any age if caring for the deceased’s child(ren) who are under age 16 or disabled.
- Divorced wives and husbands age 60 or older, if married to the deceased 10 years or more.
- Widows, widowers, divorced wives, and divorced husbands age 50 or older if they are disabled and the disability started before or within 7 years of the worker’s death.
- An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or high school); or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.
- A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild or adopted child under certain circumstances.
- The deceased worker’s parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support.
A Special One-Time Payment
In addition to the monthly benefits for family members, a one-time payment of $255 can be paid to a spouse who was living with the worker at the time of death. If there is none, it can be paid to children who are eligible for benefits.
How to Apply for Benefits
You can apply for benefits by phone or by going to any Social Security office. Don’t delay your application if you don’t have all the information. If you don’t have a document you need, Social Security can help you get it.
- Your Social Security number and the deceased worker’s Social Security number.
- A death certificate. (Generally, the funeral director faxes a statement directly to the local Social Security office, which may be used for this purpose.)
- Proof of the deceased worker’s earnings for the last year (W-2 forms or self-employment tax return).
- Your birth certificate.
- A marriage certificate, if you are applying for benefits as a widow, widower, or divorced wife/husband.
- A divorce decree, if you are applying for benefits as a divorced wife/husband.
- Children’s birth certificates and Social Security numbers, if applying for children’s benefits.
- Your checking and savings account information, if you want direct deposit for your benefits.
- You will need to submit original documents or copies certified by an issuing office. You can mail or bring them to the office. Social Security will make photocopies and return your original documents.
Reporting the Death
If your loved one was receiving benefits, you need to contact the Social Security Administration to report the death. (A Sacred Moment, as the funeral home, is also required to notify them.)
You must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months. If benefits were paid by direct deposit, notify the bank or other financial institution. Request that any funds received for the month of death or later be returned to Social Security. If the benefits were paid by check, do not cash any checks received for the month in which the person dies or later. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible.
For More Information
For more information, write or visit any Social Security office, or call 1-800-772-1213 (for the deaf or hard of hearing, call the TTY number, 1-800-325-0778). Specific questions can be answered weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You may also visit the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov and click on the survivors tab.