How Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Work?

Updated on May 29 2019

Social Security benefits can be very confusing, especially when it comes to the survivor's insurance. Learn about the Social Security survivor insurance, how it is earned, who is eligible to receive the benefit, and how it can help your family following the loss of a loved one.

What is Social Security Survivor Benefit?

Most people think of Social Security as a retirement program, but some of the Social Security taxes go toward survivor benefits for workers and their families. In fact, nearly 6 million people receive survivor benefits from Social Security. These are monthly Social Security payments to family members of a worker who has died. Typically, survivor benefits are based on the amount the deceased was receiving from Social Security when he or she died.

According to the Social Security Administration, the value of survivors benefits an individual has under Social Security is probably more than the value of individual life insurance.

As taxpayers work and pay Social Security taxes, they earn credits toward Social Security benefits. The number of years needed to work for survivor benefits depends on the taxpayer’s age at the time of death but does not exceed ten years of work.

Who is Eligible for the Social Security Survivor Benefit?

Most people that receive the survivors' benefits are widows and widowers through the spousal benefits. Spouses of the deceased can collect survivor benefits from age 60 ranging from 71.5 percent to 100 percent of their late spouse’s Social Security benefit. If the widow or widower is caring for a child under the age of 16 or a disabled child, there is no minimum age and the survivor benefit is 75 percent of the deceased’s Social Security payment. Widowed spouses and former spouses who remarry before the age of 60 cannot collect survivor benefits but eligibility will resume if the later marriage ends.

In addition to spouses, the following people are also potentially eligible for survivor benefits.

  • Minor and disabled children: Minor and disabled children can collect 75 percent of a late parent’s survivors benefit. The child must be under 18 (or 19 and 2 months if the child is in high school full time) or have disability dating from before the age of 22. All children must be unmarried.
  • Parents: Survivor benefits may be awarded to parents age 62 and older if the parents were financially dependent on their deceased child.
  • Divorced spouses: Ex-husbands and ex-wives can collect survivor benefits if the marriage was at least 10 years.

Social Security survivor benefits are subject the maximum family benefit and are only received if they exceed an individual’s own Social Security payment. The higher of the two amounts is paid.

If you have questions about Social Security income in retirement or how to claim the Social Security survivors benefit, connect with a knowledgeable financial advisor who can walk you through the process and help you create a solid retirement planning strategy.

Originally published at https://www.seniorfinanceadvisor.com.