Most articles talk about survivor’s benefits from the standpoint of a widow or widower but spouses are not the only people who benefit from survivor’s benefits. Losing a family’s breadwinner can take an economic toll on a family’s finances. That loss can pull an older person into poverty, but it can be equally devastating for families with children to lose a breadwinner. In the United States, Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other federal program. In fact, 98 percent of children could receive benefits if a working parent dies. In addition, dependent parents can also receive Social Security benefits.
Each pay period, you pay 6.2 percent of your earnings to Social Security and so does your employer (unless you work for yourself and then you are responsible for the entire 12.4 percent tax). These payments earn you credit towards your Social Security benefits. Most people think of their retirement benefits when they think of Social Security but in fact, it also pays towards a survivor benefit. How long you have to work to become eligible for survivors benefits depends upon your age when you die. Younger people need fewer years but no one needs more than 10 years of work to be eligible. A special rule even allows those who have only worked one and a half years in the three years before their death to earn their children and a spouse caring for their children to be eligible for benefits.
When can a widower or widow receive benefits?
A widow or widower not caring for children 18 or younger can receive surviving benefits at full retirement age (age 66 for people born between 1945 and 1956 gradually increasing to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later). Surviving spouses can apply as early as age 60 for reduced benefits. A disabled surviving spouse can begin receiving benefits as early as age 50.
Surviving spouses don’t need to reach any particular age if they are providing care for the children of a deceased worker if the child (or children) is younger than 16 or disabled.
Who else can receive benefits?
Children. Unmarried children younger than 18 or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time can also receive benefits. Under certain circumstances, benefits can also be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, stepgrandchildren or adopted children. A child who was disabled before age 22 and who remains disabled can receive survivor benefits at any age.
Dependent parents. Dependent parents aged 62 or older can also qualify for survivor benefits if the deceased worker provided at least one-half of their support.
Surviving divorced spouses. Surviving ex-spouses with at least 10 years into the marriage before the divorce and who is 60 or over (or 50 or older if disabled) can also receive benefits. If he or she is providing care to the deceased worker’s 16 year old or younger child or to the deceased worker’s disabled child, the divorced spouse does not have to meet any age requirements.
Generally, a funeral director notifies Social Security when someone dies. As soon as possible after the death, a surviving spouse or family member should get in touch with Social Security so that they can make sure the surviving family members receive all the benefits they are entitled to.