Skip to Content

Are You Eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Are You Eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits?

If you have suffered the death of a spouse or parent who was currently working and contributing to Social Security, you may be eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits! These benefits can be a lifesaver for grieving widows, widowers and children who have lost one or more parents.

Let’s talk about what these benefits are, how you apply, and everything else you need to know.

What are Social Security Survivors Benefits?

When someone dies, there are two types of Social Security benefits that can be paid to surviving spouses and children.

The first and most basic benefit is the Social Security Lump-Sum Death Benefit. This is a one-time $255 payment that can only be paid to the surviving spouse or child. It isn’t much but it can help offset funeral costs and other expenses.

The second and more helpful benefit is Social Security Survivors Benefits. This is an ongoing monthly payment that is based on the Social Security contributions of the person who died. The amount that is paid out will be based on a percentage of the worker’s benefit amount and the percentage you receive will depend on your relation to the worker and your age.

In this article, we will be focused on Social Security Survivors Benefits. We have more information about the one-time $255 death benefit elsewhere on our site.

Who is eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits?

These benefits are paid to surviving widows and widowers, as well as dependent children or dependent parents. Other relatives, like siblings or cousins, cannot claim these benefits. They are only for immediate, dependent family members.

In order to be eligible, the deceased worker and the person claiming survivor benefits must meet certain eligibility requirements.

Work Requirements

The Survivor Benefits program acts similar to life insurance when someone who is currently working and paying into Social Security dies.

In order to be eligible, the deceased worker must meet certain work requirements. The number of credits required depends on the worker’s age when they die. Younger workers have a lower work credit requirement than older workers.

Workers can earn up to four credits per year. Credits are based on how much money you’ve earned in a given period. Currently, one credit is equal to $1,640 in annual income. As of 2023, you can earn all four work credits by earning at least $6,560 per year. Both self-employment income and wages count.

In some cases, survivors can receive benefits when someone has received just 6 work credits in the three years prior to their death. This is a special rule that benefits children and spouses who are caring for children.

Requirements for Spouses

In order to receive Survivor Benefits as a spouse, you have to meet certain requirements as well.

Spouses who have not remarried and and are taking care of children under age 16 can receive a monthly benefit. If the child is over the age of 16 but has a disability and receives Social Security Children’s Benefits, then the surviving spouse that cares for them may still be eligible for survivors benefits.

Divorced spouses may be able to get benefits as well, as long as their marriage lasted at least 10 years. Divorced spouses who are caring for children under the age of 16 who receive children’s disability benefits do not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule. If a divorced spouse does not remarry until after they were age 60 (or 50 if they are disabled), then remarriage does not affect their eligibility for survivors benefits either.

Requirements for Children

Children who are under age 18 can also receive Social Security Survivors Benefits. The age limit is increased to 19 for children who are still attending school.

You can only get survivor’s benefits if you’re 60 or older. However, if you have a child, you can use some of that money now, and it will stop when that child turns 18.

But the best part is that it will start again once you turn 60. This allows you to use your survivor’s benefits today, even if you aren’t 60.

So let’s say you’re 50, and your child is eight. You’ll be able to qualify until your child turns 18, and since you’ll be 60 at that time, your benefits will continue.

Scott Lieberman, owner of Touchdown Money

Requirements for Parents

Parents who depended on the deceased worker for more than half of their support may also be eligible for Social Security Survivors Benefits. This benefit is limited to parents whose relationship with the worker was established before the worker was 16 years old, so it can cover stepparents and adoptive parents.

However, there are some strict and complex rules. In most cases, if you parent marries or remarries after the worker’s death, they will lose their eligibility. Parents are also not eligible if they already receive a retirement benefit that is higher than what could be paid on the worker’s record.

How much do Social Security Survivors Benefits pay?

The amount paid through the Social Security Survivors Benefits program varies depending on how much the worker had earned in their lifetime. Higher lifetime earnings equal a higher monthly benefit for their survivors.

Surviving spouses are generally eligible for the highest amount of benefits. However, the amount that spouses receive depends on the spouse’s age and whether or not they are caring for children.

  • 100% of the worker’s benefit amount is payable to surviving spouses who are full retirement age or older.
  • 71-99% of the worker’s basic amount is payable to surviving spouses who are at least 60 years old but not yet full retirement age.
  • 71.5% of the worker’s benefit amount is payable to surviving spouses who are between the ages of 50 and 59 years.
  • 75% of the worker’s benefit amount is payable to surviving spouses with a disability who are caring for a child under the age of 16.

Children who meet the eligibility requirements may receive 75% of the worker’s benefit amount. This amount is paid to each individual child, although there is a maximum family limit that could affect the payments.

For surviving parents, the amount depends on whether the worker was supporting one or both parents. If only one parent is dependent, then that parent can receive 82.5% of the worker’s benefit amount. If both parents were dependent, then each parent can receive 75%.

All of these percentages are based on the work credits of the person who died, so I am unable to provide exact dollar figures in this article. The easiest way to find the exact amount is to log into your My Social Security account on the official Social Security website.

Watch out for the maximum limits!

There is a limit to how much family members can receive each month. If a single worker was supporting many dependents, they may find their benefits reduced to cover everyone’s payouts.

The household limit is generally between 150% and 180% of the basic benefit rate. If the total amount of benefits that family members are eligible for exceeds that amount, everyone will have their benefits reduced proportionally.

For example, I have five children. If I were to die next week, all five of my children would be eligible for 75% of my benefit amount. That would add up to 375% of my total benefit amount, which is far higher than the household limit. As a result, each of my children would only receive 36% (if the household limit was 180% for our family). Presumably, when each child reaches the age limit and stops receiving those benefits, the percentage received by the still-underage surviving children would increase accordingly.

Apply as soon as possible after the death.

Social Security encourages everyone to apply right away. In many cases, they cannot pay for the period between the death and your application date. The best way to maximize your benefits is to apply as soon after the death as possible.

You cannot apply for survivor benefits online. Applications must be made over the phone or at a Social Security office. You can call them at 1-800-772-1213 on weekdays between 8am and 7pm. The Social Security office states they are generally less busy on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays toward the end of the month.

You will need to provide original or certified copies of the following documents:

  • Proof of Death (this could be a death certificate or a statement from the funeral home)
  • Social Security Numbers (for the worker and the survivors)
  • Birth Certificates (for surviving spouses, children and parents)
  • Marriage Certificates (for surviving spouses)
  • Divorce Papers (if applicable, for surviving spouses)
  • W2s or Self-Employment Tax Returns for the deceased worker’s most recent year
  • Bank Information (for the survivors)

FAQs about Social Security Survivors Benefits

We’ve received a lot of questions about this – and since it’s such a complex and important topic, we wanted to dedicate a FAQ section to answer your most common and pressing questions.

What can you spend Social Security Child Survivor Benefits on?

Although there are no published limits on how Social Security Child Survivor Benefits can be used, these benefits are intended to help support children who have a lost the financial support of a parent and should therefore be used to help take care of that child’s needs.

Do Social Security Survivor Benefits get COLA increases?

YES! According to Rick, a Certified Public Accountant with JustAnswer, Social Security Survivor Benefits also receive COLA increases.

Nicole is the owner and lead researcher for Low Income Relief. She has over 20 years of professional research and writing experience, and she has been solely dedicated to investigating low income topics for the last 10 years. Nicole started Low Income Relief after a personal experience with poverty. When her husband was medically discharged from the US Army, their family experienced tremendous financial hardship. Nicole was able to gather help from multiple community agencies and move into a nearby low income housing unit in just two weeks! Since then, Nicole has been dedicated to helping low income families in crisis. She regularly spends hundreds of hours combing through countless resources to make sure that Low Income Relief has the most comprehensive and complete resource directories on the internet today. Prior to starting Low Income Relief, Nicole worked as a novelist, journalist, ghostwriter and content creator. Her work has been featured in various print and online publications, including USA Today, The Daily Herald, The Chronicle and more. Her work has also been featured by Google for Publishers and other leading industry publications.


Wednesday 16th of August 2023

Am I able to receive my husbands benefits if I am 59 years old. They said I had to be 60? And I lost everything my apartment and no money coming in since he was sole bread winner.

Catherine Marucci

Thursday 17th of August 2023

Unfortunately, the age is set at 60. You can find more information here:

Tami Daricek

Thursday 29th of June 2023

My husband died in March 2018, he would of ;even 60 July 2018. I was 48in March, turned 49 in may!!! When I called to report his death and apply for survivors benefits.... I was told I couldn't apply until I was 59.5 yrs!!! I thought WTF, why not? I don't ever remember getting a response.. But I was pretty much in shock for months!! This was probably the 1st 10 days he was gone. I mention it to friends ect. No one has ever heardof that!! Can someone explain to me a reason why or was I lied to about that? ×hat do I need todo to get the last 5 yrs back pay if iI was supposed to get it right away!!! Because that would of kept me from loosing everything & practical becoming homeless. I also worked fulltime my self, for most of my life!! California you need more then one income to survive!!! PLEASE PLEASE SOMEONE HELP ME UNDERSTAND WHY, THIS HAS BEEN THE HARDEST 5 YRS [F MY LI FE!!!! Because once you hit the close to homeless it's a fight for your it's so hard to dig yourself back out of it. I still &spent been able to breath!!! THANKS IN ADVANC÷ HOPELESSLY DROWNEDING IN FINANCES /SMI D

Catherine Marucci

Monday 3rd of July 2023

Hi Tami. You may be eligible for a partial amount. It's definitely worth contacting them again to ask.