Planning for Your Survivors
As you plan for the future, you'll want to think about what your family would need if you should die. Social Security can help your family if you have earned enough Social Security credits through your work.
You can earn up to 4 credits each year. In 2023, for example, you earn 1 credit for each $1,640 of wages or self-employment income. When you have earned $6,560 you have earned your 4 credits for the year.
The number of credits needed to provide benefits for your survivors depends on your age when you die. No one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefit. But, the younger a person is, the fewer credits they must have for family members to receive survivors benefits.
Some survivors can get benefits if you have credit for 1 and 1/2 years of work (6 credits) in the 3 years just before your death.
For Your Surviving Spouse
There are about 4 million surviving spouses receiving monthly Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse's earnings record. For many of those survivors, those benefits help to provide the necessities of life.
Surviving spouses can receive:
- Reduced benefits as early as age 60.
- Benefits as early as age 50 if they have a disability AND their disability started before or within 7 years of your death.
- Benefits at any age, if they have not remarried, and if they take care of your child who is under age 16 or who has a disability and receives child’s benefits.
If applying for disability benefits on a deceased worker’s record, they can speed up the application process if they complete an Adult Disability Report and have it available at the time of their appointment.
We use the same definition of disability for surviving spouses as we do for workers.
For Your Surviving Divorced Spouse
If you have a surviving divorced spouse, they could get the same benefits as your surviving spouse if that marriage lasted 10 years or more.
Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse won't affect the benefit amounts your other survivors will receive based on your earnings record.
If your surviving divorced spouse is caring for your child who is under age 16 who has a disability and gets benefits on your record, they will not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule. The child must be your natural or legally adopted child.
For Your Children
Your unmarried children who are under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) can be eligible to receive Social Security benefits when you die.
Your child can also get benefits at any age if they have a disability that began before age 22.
Under certain circumstances, your stepchildren, grandchildren, step grandchildren or adopted children may receive benefits. For further information, read our publication Survivors Benefits.
For Your Parents
You must already provide at least half of your parent’s support. Your parent must not be eligible to receive a retirement benefit that is higher than the benefit we could pay on your record. Generally, your parent also must not marry after your death. However, there are some exceptions.
In addition to your natural parent, your stepparent or adoptive parent may receive benefits if they became your parent before you were age 16.
How Much Would Your Survivors Receive
How much your family could receive in benefits depends on your average lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings were, the higher their benefits would be.
These are examples of monthly benefit payments that survivors may receive:
- Surviving spouse, full retirement age or older—100% of your benefit amount.
- Surviving spouse, age 60 to full retirement age—71½ to 99% of your basic amount.
- Surviving spouse, age 50 through 59—71½%
- Surviving spouse with a disability, any age, caring for a child under age 16—75%
- A child under age 18 (19 if still in elementary or secondary school) or has a disability—75%.
- Your dependent parent(s), age 62 or older:
- One surviving parent—82½%.
- Two surviving parents—75% to each parent.
Percentages for a surviving divorced spouse would be the same as above.
There may also be a special lump-sum death payment.
Maximum Family Amount
There's a limit to the amount that family members can receive each month. The limit varies, but it is generally equal to between 150% and 180% of the basic 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.)
Go to your personal my Social Security account for an estimate of the benefits your family could receive if you were to die right now.
Other Things You Need to Know
There are limits on how much survivors may earn while they receive benefits.
Benefits for a surviving spouse or surviving divorced spouse may be affected by several additional factors:
If they remarry
If your surviving spouse, or surviving divorced spouse remarries before they reach age 60 (age 50 if they have a disability), they cannot receive benefits as a surviving spouse while they're married.
If your surviving spouse, or surviving divorced spouse remarries after they reach age 60 (age 50 if they have a disability), they will continue to qualify for benefits on your Social Security record.
However, if their current spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, they may want to apply for spouse's benefits on their record. If that amount is more than the surviving spouse's benefit on your record, they will receive a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.
If they're eligible for retirement benefits on their own record
If your surviving spouse, or surviving divorced spouse receives benefits on your record, they can switch to their own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes they're eligible for retirement benefits and their retirement rate is higher than their rate as a surviving spouse, or surviving divorced spouse.
In many cases, a surviving spouse can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to a higher rate in the future.
If they will also receive a pension based on work not covered by us.
If your surviving spouse, or surviving divorced spouse will also receive a pension based on work not covered by us, such as government or foreign work, their Social Security benefits as a survivor may be affected.