You probably know that the surviving spouse of a person receiving Social Security benefits is entitled to get those benefits – but the rules governing survivors’ SSI benefits are complex.
Here we will try to explain what you need to know about Social Security Survivor’s benefits.
Millions of people apply for and receive Social Security survivor benefits every month. These monthly payments typically go to the spouse, former spouse, or children of someone who was receiving or eligible for Social Security benefits.
In some circumstances, parents, grandchildren, or stepchildren of a late worker may also qualify for survivor benefits.
In most cases, survivor benefits are based on the amount the deceased was receiving from Social Security at the time of death (or was entitled to receive if he or she died before filing for benefits).
Just as you would for your own benefits, you can apply by phone at 800-772-1213 or in person at your local Social Security office.
Most survivors’ benefits are received by widows and widowers. You can collect survivor benefits from age 60 (50 if they are disabled), at rates ranging from 71.5 percent to 100 percent of the late spouse’s Social Security benefit, depending on the survivor’s age.
There is an exception if you are caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 or disabled; in this case, there is no minimum age, and the survivor benefit is 75 percent of the deceased’s Social Security payment.
You do not have to claim survivor benefits as soon as your spouse dies or at your earliest eligibility age. There is no time limit to file, and they actually grow if you delay claiming them until you reach your full retirement age.
For survivor benefits, full retirement age is currently 66 but will rise incrementally to 67 over the next several years.
What if I am Already Receiving My Own SSI When My Spouse Dies?
This is a very important question. If you are already drawing Social Security on your own work record, you will receive survivor benefits only if they exceed your own payment. Social Security will pay the higher of the two benefit amounts.
For example, if your husband was working longer, or a higher income earner than yourself, and you both were collecting SSI, and his benefit was more than yours, you would be entitled to receive his benefit, but not his and your own. Social Security will not combine a late spouse’s benefit and your own and pay you both.
When you are eligible for two benefits, such as a survivor benefit and a retirement payment, Social Security doesn’t add them together but rather pays you the higher of the two amounts.
Also, keep in mind that survivor benefits are distinct from Social Security’s lump-sum death benefit, a one-time payment of $255 to a deceased beneficiary’s family.
To receive this payment, you must file the application (by calling Social Security at 800-772-1213 or visiting your local office) within two years of the person’s death.