Survivor Benefits:

Social Security provides help for the families of workers who die. Benefits can be paid to:

  • Widows
  • Widowers
  • Divorced widows/Divorced widowers
  • Children
  • Some instances dependent parents.

When the worker paid Social Security taxes on his or her wages, they earned credits toward Social Security benefits for their family members. The number of credits needed depends on the age of the worker when he or she dies. If the worker dies young, fewer credits are needed; but no one needs more than 40 work credits or about 10 years of work. There is a special rule that helps younger workers who have worked for as short a period as one and one-half years in the three years just before death. If the worker had that much work, benefits can still be paid to the worker’s children and the spouse who is caring for the children.

Rules for survivor’s benefits:

  • Widows and widowers may receive full benefits at 65 if they were born on or before January 1, 1940.
  • Reduced widows or widowers benefits can begin as early as age 60.
  • Disabled widow’s benefits may be payable at age 50.
  • If a Divorced widow or widower meets Social Security’s definition of disability, they can begin receiving benefits as early as age 50.
  • Widows or widowers can receive benefits at any age if they are caring for the worker’s child who is younger than age 16 or who is disabled and receiving substantial personal care services from the surviving parent.
  • Unmarried children of the worker can draw benefits if they are under the age of 18 or are between the ages of 18 and 19 if they are fulltime students in a secondary school.
  • Children who became disabled before they were age 22 and remain disabled can also draw benefits.
  • Under certain circumstances, benefits may also be paid to the worker’s stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren or adopted children.
  • Dependent parents may receive benefits if they are age 62 or older and they had been receiving at least one-half of their support from the insured worker.
  • Spouses who were married to the worker for at least ten years before they became divorced and are age 60 or older (or aged 50 through 59 if they meet the disability requirements) can receive benefits on the worker’s record.

The divorced spouse who is caring for a child of the worker can be paid benefits without meeting the ten-year marriage requirement if the child is under 16 years of age or is determined to be disabled and requires personal care.


Unmarried, minor, and dependent grandchildren may be eligible to receive benefits from a grandparent’s record if both of the child’s natural parents are deceased or disabled.

Determining Amount of Benefits:
The survivor benefit amount is based on the lifetime average earnings of the person who dies. Social Security uses the worker’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage the survivors are entitled to. The percentage received depends on the age of the survivors and relationship to the worker.  The higher the worker’s earnings are, the higher the amount of the family’s benefits will be.

Here are the most typical situations:

  • A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally receives 100% of the worker’s full retirement amount assuming the worker did not draw a reduced benefit prior to death.
  • A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives about 71 to 99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount.
  • A widow or widower, any age, who is disabled or has a child younger than age 16 in their care receives 75 percent of the worker’s basic amount.
  • Children receive 75 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount.

Benefit Limitations:

There is a limit to the amount of monthly benefits that can be paid to all eligible family members. The limit varies, but it is generally between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount.

If your client receives a pension from a federal, state or local government based on work where they did NOT pay Social Security taxes, their widow’s/widower’s benefits may be reduced. However, there are exceptions to Government Pension Offset. For more information on Government Pension Offset, please check online or visit the local office.

A one-time payment (Lump-Sum-Death Benefit) of $255 may also be payable to the surviving spouse or children of the insured worker.


Q and A

Q. Will survivor benefits continue if my client remarries?

A. Your client’s remarriage would have no effect on the benefits being paid to their children. If your client gets benefits only because they are caring for children, their
benefits would end at the time of their remarriage unless they married someone who was receiving Social Security benefits .

Q. Will my client lose her/his widow or widower’s benefits if they remarry?

A. Generally, you cannot get widow’s or widower’s benefits if you remarry before age 60.

Q. Will my client’s child who receives survivor’s benefits lose entitlement if they are adopted?

A. No. The adoption of a child already entitled to survivor’s benefits does not terminate the child’s benefits.

Q. If my client’s mother passed away in April, can she keep the check that comes in May?

A. Social Security benefits are not pro-rated. To be entitled to a Social Security benefit check for a given month, the person must be alive the entire month. No benefit is payable for the month of death. So, the check that comes in May, which pays for the month of April, would not be due.