Survivor's Benefits

Updated July 10, 2020 | Infoplease Staff

This feature of the Social Security program gives your family valuable life-insurance protection. The amount of protection is again geared to what the worker would be entitled to if he or she had been at retirement age when he or she died. Total family survivor benefits were estimated to be as high as $2,534.00 a month if the worker died in 1995. Your survivors could get:

  1. A one-time cash payment of $255 for your spouse or minor children if you have enough work credits.
  2. A benefit for each child until he or she reaches 18 (or 19, if the child is in full-time attendance at an elementary or secondary school), or at any age if disabled before 22. “Child” includes biological or legally adopted children, or dependent stepchildren or grandchildren.
  3. A benefit for your widow(er), at any age, if she/he has your entitled children under 16 or disabled in care.
  4. Your spouse or divorced spouse can get a widow's, widower's, or surviving divorced spouse's benefit starting at age 60. A widow or widower who first becomes entitled at retirement age or later will get 100% of his or her deceased spouse's basic amount (or the amount of the deceased spouse's reduced benefits).
  5. Dependent parents can sometimes collect survivors' benefits. They are usually eligible if: (a) they were getting at least half their support from the deceased worker; (b) they have reached 62; (c) they are not eligible for a greater retirement benefit based on their own earnings; and (d) they have not married since the worker's death.

If in addition to your Social Security benefit as a wife, husband, divorced spouse, widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse you receive a pension based on your work in employment not covered by Social Security, your benefit as a spouse or survivor will be reduced. Under an exception in the law, your government pension will not affect your spouse's or survivor's benefit if you became eligible for that pension before December 1982 and if, at the time you apply or become entitled to your Social Security benefit as a spouse or survivor, you could have qualified for that benefit if the law in effect in January 1977 had remained in effect (e.g., at that time, men had to prove they were dependent upon their wives for half of their support to be eligible for benefits as a spouse or survivor.) There are also several other exceptions in the law. Your government pension may also affect Social Security benefits based on your own work covered by Social Security.

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