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Fact Sheet

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Social Security is more than a retirement program; it is America's family protection plan. Social Security provides valuable disability and survivors protection for workers and their families.

Survivors Benefits

When a worker dies, certain members or his or her family may be eligible for benefits if the worker earned enough Social Security credits while they were working. The younger a person is, the fewer credits are needed to be eligible for survivors benefits. However, nobody needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefits. The family members include: a widow(er) age 60 or older, 50 or older if disabled or any age if caring for a child under age 16; children if they are unmarried and under age 18, under 19 but still in school or 18 or older but disabled; and parents if the worker was their primary means of support. A special one-time payment of $255 may be made to a worker's spouse or minor children. If the worker was divorced, their ex-spouse could be eligible for a widow or widower's benefit.

Disability Benefits

Disability benefits are payable at any age to people who have earned enough Social Security credits and who have a severe physical or mental impairment that is expected to prevent them from doing "substantial" work for a year or more or who have a condition that is expected to result in death. The disability program includes incentives to smooth the transition back into the workforce, including continuation of benefits and health care coverage while a person attempts to work.

Family Benefits

If a worker is eligible for disability benefits, other members of their family might receive benefits, too. These include: a spouse if he or she is at least 62 years old or under 62 but caring for a child under age 16; and children if they are unmarried and under age 18, under 19 but still in school or 18 or older but disabled. If a worker is divorced, their ex-spouse could be eligible for benefits.

To Obtain More Information or File a Claim

  • Social Security has a website at that provides information about Social Security benefits.
  • Social Security has a toll-free number (1-800-772-1213) (TTY Number 1-866-545-7316) . We can answer specific questions by phone from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m. on business days and provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day.
  • Social Security has about 1300 local offices throughout the country where you can obtain more information and file a claim.
  • To file a claim, call Social Security's toll free number (1-800-772-1213) (TTY Number 1-866-545-7316).

Basic Facts about Social Security Survivors and Disability Benefits

  • In 2001, more than 45 million Americans will receive over $400 billion in Social Security benefits.
  • One of every three Social Security beneficiaries is not a retiree, but is a disabled worker or family member, or a survivor of a worker who has died.
  • Approximately 70% of the workforce have no long-term disability insurance. Social Security provides disability coverage for a worker with a family equivalent to about a $233,000 disability policy.
  • Survivors of deceased workers account for 16% of total benefits paid.
  • An estimated 98% of young children and their mothers and fathers are insured for survivors' benefits through Social Security. Social Security survivors' protection is equivalent to a $354,000 life insurance policy.
  • The average monthly benefit for a widowed parent with two children is $1696.
  • The average monthly benefit for an aged (over 60) widow or widower is $815.
  • The average monthly benefit for a disabled worker is $789.
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