If you’re married or have dependents who count on your income, you may have asked “What are survivor’s benefits?” Social Security Administration (SSA) currently provides retirement benefits to almost 40 million people in the United States. However, SSA also plays a significant part in providing financial support as survivor’s benefits to those who’ve lost a wage earner loved one.
According to the Social Security Act, when a Social Security beneficiary—someone who’s paid Social Security tax and earned income credits over a lifetime—dies, his or her survivors may be eligible for Social Security benefits. Visit SSA.gov to learn more about Social Security survivor’s benefits and “Planning for Your Survivors.”
Survivors Benefits: Widows and Widowers
According to SSA, about five million men and women receive survivor’s benefits because a wage earner husband or wife has died. Survivor’s benefits rules are complex but, in most cases, a widow or widower may receive his or her deceased spouse’s full Social Security benefit:
It’s possible for a survivor spouse to claim survivor benefits as soon as age 60. If he or she is disabled, it’s possible to claim survivor benefits at age 50.
If the surviving spouse is less than full retirement age (FRA) for his or her birth year, it’s possible to claim 71-1/2 to 99 percent of the deceased beneficiary’s Social Security.
If the surviving spouse cares for the deceased spouse’s child (or if the child is younger than 16, or disabled), the surviving caretaker may receive 75 percent of the deceased beneficiary’s Social Security.
If a former spouse now cares for the deceased beneficiary’s child who’s less than 16 years old or disabled, the survivor’s benefits he or she receives can affect the benefits available to other survivors.
Survivors Benefits: Unmarried Child/Children
An unmarried child or unmarried children may also receive survivor’s benefits. The deceased beneficiary’s Social Security may be paid to an unmarried child/children of less than 18 years old but no older than 19 years old if he/they attend high school on a full-time basis. The surviving child can receive three-fourths of his or her deceased parent’s Social Security benefit in that case.
In some instances, the deceased worker’s benefits may be paid to a stepchild, grandchild, or adopted child. If the child is disabled before age 22 and remains disabled, the worker’s benefits can be awarded to the child at any age.
Survivors Benefits: Dependent Parent/Parents
If the deceased Social Security beneficiary left a dependent parent or parents, his or her benefits can be paid to them if they’re at least 62 years old. In order to qualify for survivor’s benefits, the deceased son or daughter previously provided at least 50 percent of the parent/parents’ financial support.
Survivors Benefits: Divorced Spouse
If a formerly married and now divorced spouse survives his or her ex-husband or wife, it’s possible for him or her to claim Social Security survivor’s benefits. Social Security says the marriage that ended in divorce must have lasted at least 10 years.
The surviving ex-spouse must be at least 60 years old or 50 years old if disabled. Of course, remarriage of the surviving ex-spouse may be a factor in granting survivor’s benefits. In order to claim survivor’s benefits after divorce, the surviving ex-husband or wife can’t remarry before he or she turns 60.
Survivors Benefits vs. Individual Social Security Retirement Benefits
SSA offers survivor widows or widowers with lots of flexibility concerning when to claim their individual Social Security retirement benefits. For instance, if a widow claimed reduced survivors benefits on her 60th birthday, she can opt to claim her personal earnings record as early as age 62. Of course, if her own retirement benefit is greater than the reduced survivor benefit, she can choose the greater of the two.
In order to make the best choice, he or she should review the Social Security Statement at least once each year. Access the Social Security Statement at My Social Security Account.