What are the requirements for a survivor to receive Social Security benefits?

When a person dies, certain members of the family may be eligible for survivor benefits if the deceased worked, paid Social Security taxes, and earned enough credits. The number of credits a person needs depends on their age at the time of death. The younger a person is, the fewer credits are needed to be eligible for survivor benefits. However, no more than 40 credits (10 years of work) are required to be eligible for any Social Security benefits.

Social Security survivor benefits can be paid to:

•A widow/widower-full benefits at full retirement age (currently age 65), or reduced benefits as early as age 60. A disabled widow/widower may receive benefits as early as age 50.
•A widow/widower at any age if he or she takes care of the deceased`s child under age 16 or disabled, who receives Social Security benefits.
•Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time. A child can receive benefits at any age if he or she was disabled before age 22 and remains disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits can also be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children.
•Dependent parents at 62 or older.
A former spouse can receive benefits under the same circumstances as a widow/widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse who is 60 or older will not affect the benefit rates for other survivors receiving benefits.

In general, a widow/widower cannot receive benefits if they remarry before the age of 60 (50 if disabled) unless the marriage ends, whether by death, divorce, or annulment. However, remarriage after age 60 (50 if disabled) will not prevent payments on a former spouse`s record.

The amount of the survivor benefit is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher the benefits will be. The amount a survivor receives is a percentage of the deceased`s basic Social Security benefit. The following provides the most typical situations and the amount received.

•Widow or widower full retirement age (currently age 65) or older-100 percent.
•Widow or widower age 60 to 64-about 71 - 94 percent.
•Widow or widower at any age with a child under age 16 - 75 percent.
•Children - 75 percent.
If a person is receiving widow/widower`s benefits, they can switch to their own retirement benefits (assuming they are eligible and their retirement rate is higher than the widow/widower`s rate) as early as age 62. In many cases, a widow/widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate at full retirement age. However, they will not be paid both benefits - they will be paid the higher of the two benefits.

The information on this page is meant to provide a general overview of the law. The laws in your state and/or city may deviate significantly from those described here. If you have specific questions related to your situation you should speak with a local attorney.

Additional Elder Law Articles

Search LawInfo's Elder Law Resources