The following is an explanation of the benefits that Social Security can provide for families surviving the loss of the family wage earner. The first part informs workers of the survivors benefits they pay for through tax dollars and how these benefits are earned.
Part 1 - If You're Working... What You Need To Know About Survivors Benefits
- "Life Insurance" From Social Security
- How Do I Earn Survivors Benefits?
- Who Can Get Survivors Benefits?
- Special One-Time Death Benefit
- Benefits For Surviving Divorce Spouses
- How Much Are Benefits?
Part 2 - If A Loved One Has Died . . . What You Need To Know About Survivors Benefits
- How Do I Apply For Benefits?
- How Much Will I Get?
- Maximum Family Benefits
- Retirement Benefits For Widow(ers)
- What If I Work?
- If You Remarry?
Part 1 - If You're Working ... What You Need To Know About Survivors Benefits
"Life Insurance" From Social Security
Many people think of Social Security as a retirement program. But, retirement benefits are just one part of the Social Security program. Some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward survivors insurance. In fact, the value of the survivors insurance you have under Social Security probably is more than the value of your individual life insurance.
When someone dies who has worked and paid into Social Security, survivors benefits can be paid to certain family members. These include widows/widowers (and divorced widows/widowers), children, and dependent parents.
You, along with millions of other people, earn survivors insurance by working and paying Social Security taxes. Right now, 98 out of every 100 children could get benefits if a working parent should die. In fact, Social Security pays more benefits to children than any other federal program.
How You Earn Survivors Benefits
When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for survivors benefits if you worked, paid Social Security taxes, and earned enough "credits." You can earn a maximum of four credits each year. The number of credits you need depends on your age of death. The younger you are, the fewer credits you need for family members to be eligible for survivors benefits. But, 40 credits always are enough (10 years of work) for one to be eligible for any Social Security benefits.
Under a special rule, benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for your children, even if you do not have the number of credits required. They can receive benefits if you have credit for one and a half years of work in the three years prior to your death.
Who Can Get Survivors Benefits?
When you die, Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to the following people:
Your widow/widower - full benefits at 65 or older (if born before 1940) or reduced benefits as early as age 60. NOTE: The age for receiving full benefits gradually increases for persons born after 1939 until it reaches age 67 for persons born in 1962 and later. A disabled widow/widower can receive benefits at 50-60 years old. The surviving spouse's benefits may be reduced if s/he also receives a pension from a job in which Social Security taxes were not withheld. For more information, call the Social Security Administration to ask for the fact sheet, “Government Pension Offset” (Publication No. 05-10007).
Your widow/widower at any age if s/he is taking care of your child under the age of 16 or your disabled child who receives benefits.
Unmarried children under 18 (or up to age 19 if they attend elementary or secondary school full time). Your child can get benefits at any age if s/he was disabled before age 22 and remained disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits also can be paid to your stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children.
Dependent parents at age 62 or older.
Special One-Time Death Benefit
A special one-time payment of $255 can be made upon your death if you have enough work "credits." This payment can be made only to your spouse or minor children if they meet certain requirements.
Benefits For Surviving Divorced Spouses
If you have been divorced and had been married for at least ten years, your former spouse can get benefits under the same circumstances as your widow/widower. Your former spouse, however, does not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule if s/he is taking care of your child under the age of 16 or your disabled child who receives benefits. The child must be your former spouse's biological or legally adopted child.
Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse who is at least 60 years old (50-60 if disabled) will not affect the benefit rates for other survivors receiving benefits.
How Much Are Benefits?
How much your family can get from Social Security depends on your average lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings are, the higher the benefits will be.
If you would like to get an estimate of the Social Security survivors benefits that could be paid to your family, call or visit the Social Security Administration to ask for a Form SSA-7004 (Request for Personal Earnings and Benefit Estimate Statement).
Within four to six weeks after you complete and return this form, you will receive a statement showing an estimate of survivors benefits that could be paid, as well as an estimate of retirement and disability benefits and other important information. There is no charge for this service.
Part 2 - If A Loved One Has Died ... What You Need To Know About Survivors Benefits
How Do I Apply For Benefits?
How you sign up for survivors benefits depends on whether or not you are receiving other Social Security benefits.
If You Are Not Receiving Social Security Benefits
You should apply for survivors benefits promptly because, in some cases, benefits may not be retroactive. You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office.
The Social Security Administration will need certain information to process your application. It is helpful to have it when you apply, but do not delay applying if you do not have everything; the Social Security Administration will help you get it. The Social Security Administration will need either original documents or copies certified by the agency that issued them.
The information needed includes:
proof of death-either from funeral home or death certificate
your Social Security number, as well as the worker's
your birth certificate
your marriage certificate if you are a widow or widower
your divorce papers if you are applying as a surviving divorced spouse
dependent children's Social Security numbers and birth certificates
deceased worker's W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year
the name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be directly deposited into your account
If You're Already Getting Social Security Benefits
If you are getting benefits as a wife or husband on your spouse's record when s/he dies, you should report the death the Social Security Administration, and it will change your payments to survivors benefits. If the Social Security Administration needs more information, they will contact you.
If you are getting benefits on your own record, you will need to complete an application to receive survivors benefits. Call or visit the Social Security Administration, and it will check to see if you can collect more money as a widow or widower. It will need to see your spouse's death certificate to process your claim.
Benefits for any children will automatically be changed to survivors benefits after the death is reported to the Social Security Administration, which will contact you if it needs more information.
How Much Will I Get?
The amount of your benefit is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more s/he paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits will be. The amount you will get is a percentage of the deceased's basic Social Security benefit. The percentage depends on your age and the type of benefit for which you are eligible. Here are the most typical situations:
widow or widower, age 65 or older - 100 percent
widow or widower age, 60-64 - about 71-94 percent
widow, any age, with a child under age 16 - 75 percent
children - 75 percent
Maximum Family Benefits
There is a limit to the amount of money that can be paid to you and other family members each month. The limit varies, but is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of the deceased's benefit rate. If the sum of the benefits payable to the family members is greater than this limit, the benefits will be reduced proportionately.
Retirement Benefits For Widows/Widowers
If you are receiving widows/widowers (including divorced widows/widowers) benefits, remember that you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes that you are eligible and your retirement rate is higher than your widows'/widowers' rate. 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 age 65. The rules are complicated and vary depending on your situation, so you should talk to a one of the representatives from the Social Security Administration about the options available to you.
What If I Work?
If you work while getting Social Security survivors benefits and are under full retirement age (65 for people born before 1938 and gradually increasing to 67 for people born in 1960 or later), the amount of your benefits may be reduced if your earnings exceed certain limits. To find out what the limits are this year and how earnings above those limits reduce your Social Security benefits, contact the Social Security Administration to request the leaflet, “How Work Affects Your Benefits” (Publication No. 05-10069).
Your earnings will reduce only your survivors benefits, not the benefits of other family members.
What If I Remarry?
Generally, you cannot get survivors benefits if you remarry. But, remarriage after age 60 (50 if disabled) will not prevent benefit payments on your former spouse's record. Furthermore, at age 62 or older, you may get benefits on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.
A Word About Medicare
Medicare is a health insurance plan for people who are age 65 or older. People who are disabled or have kidney failure also can get Medicare.
Medicare has two parts, hospital insurance and medical insurance; most people have both parts.
Hospital insurance, sometimes called Part A, covers inpatient hospital care and certain follow-up care. The worker already paid for it as part of her/his Social Security taxes while s/he was working.
Medical insurance, sometimes called Part B, pays for physicians' services and some other services not covered by hospital insurance. Medical insurance is optional, and you must pay a premium.
Some people already are getting Social Security benefits when they turn 65, and their Medicare starts automatically. Others must file an application. For more information, call the Health Care Financing Administration at 1-800 MEDICAR(E), and ask for a copy of the handbook, "Medicare and You". You also can visit the website at www.medicare.gov.
Help For Low-Income Medicare Beneficiaries
If you get Medicare and have low income and few resources, your state may pay your Medicare premiums and, in some cases, other "out-of-pocket" Medicare expenses, such as deductibles and coinsurance. Only your state can decide if you qualify. To find out if you do, contact your local welfare office or Medicaid agency. For more information about the program, contact Social Security and ask for a copy of the publication, “Medicare Savings For Qualified Beneficiaries” (HCFA Publication No. 02184).
Your Personal Information Is Safe With Social Security
The Social Security Administration keeps personal information on millions of people. That information, such as your Social Security number, earnings record, age, and address, remains personal and confidential. Generally, the Social Security Administration will discuss this information only with you. The Social Security Administration needs your permission if you would like someone else to help with your Social Security business.
If you ask friends or family members to call the Social Security Administration, you need to be with them when they call so it knows that you support their help. A representative will ask your permission to discuss your Social Security business with that person.
If you send a friend or family member to your local Social Security office to conduct your Social Security business, send your written consent with them. Only with your written permission can SSA discuss your personal information and provide the answers to your questions. In the case of a minor child, the biological parent or legal guardian can act on the child's behalf in taking care of the child's Social Security business.
The privacy of your records is guaranteed. There are instances when the law requires Social Security to give information to other government agencies to conduct other government health or welfare programs, such as “Temporary Assistance to Needy Families,” Medicaid, and food stamps. Programs receiving information from Social Security are prohibited from sharing that information.
For More Information
You can find the answers to many of the questions you may have about Social Security on our the website, www.socialsecurity.gov. The website includes publications you can download regarding all aspects of the Social Security programs, including forms you can use to request a variety of services, Social Security e-News, an electronic newsletter that you can receive by e-mail free-of-charge to help you keep up with the latest changes in Social Security programs, and online retirement, survivors and disability planners designed to help people of all ages calculate their future benefits and plan their financial security using their Social Security benefits as a base.
If you do not have a personal computer, note that many libraries and various nonprofit organizations provide computer services to the public. Check your telephone directory under computer services.
If you or someone you know has been improperly denied Social Security disability benefits, contact us immediately by using our free online consultation form . A Social Security lawyer will review the facts of your claim. There is no charge or obligation for this service. Once we have received your information, a member of our staff will contact you concerning your claim.
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