How to Claim Social Security Survivor Benefits

by James Rada, Jr. ; Updated July 27, 2017
Social Security can provide a nest egg if a wage earner in the family dies.

When a wage earner in a family dies, the family becomes eligible for Social Security Administration survivor benefits. This includes the deceased person’s spouse and qualifying children. These benefits come from the fact that you earn credits toward Social Security benefits as you work, according to the Social Security Administration. It takes no more than 10 years of you working for your surviving family members to be eligible for the death benefit. Eligible widows or widowers can receive full benefits at retirement age or reduced benefits as early as age 60, according to the Social Security Administration. A disabled widow or widower can receive benefits as early as age 50. Widows or widowers who care for a child under 16 or one who is disabled, children who were disabled before age 22 or dependent parents under age 62 also can receive survivor benefits.

Step 1

Apply for the benefit as soon as possible after the death, if you are not currently receiving Social Security, because some benefits begin from the time that you apply rather than the date of the death. You can complete your application at any Social Security office or by calling 1-800-772-1213.

Step 2

Provide original copies or certified copies of the needed documents. According to the Social Security Administration, the documents include a death certificate, your Social Security number, the dead person’s Social Security number, your birth certificate, your marriage certificate (for widows or widowers), divorce papers (if applicable), dependent children’s Social Security numbers and birth certificates (if applicable), the dead person’s W-2 forms or self-employment tax return for the most-recent year, bank name and account numbers. Unmarried children can receive benefits up to age 18, or 19 if they are enrolled full-time in high school.

Step 3

Report the death to the Social Security Administration if you are already receiving retirement benefits from Social Security based on the deceased person’s work. Once notified, the payments will be changed to survivor’s benefits. The Social Security Administration will contact you if more information is needed.

Step 4

Work with the Social Security Administration to increase your benefit if you are already receiving retirement benefits based on your work. Many times, you can receive a combination of retirement and survivor benefits that will increase your monthly check. In this instance, you will need to complete an application and provide a copy of your spouse’s death certificate.

About the Author

James Rada, Jr. was a newspaper reporter for eight years and earned 23 awards from the Maryland Delaware D.C. Press Association, Associated Press, Society of Professional Journalists, Maryland State Teachers’ Association and CNHI. He also worked for 12 years as a marketing communications writer, earning a Print Copywriter of the Year Award from the Utah Ad Federation. He holds a Bachelor of Arts in communications.

Photo Credits

  • Roll of dollars image by Mykola Velychko from Fotolia.com
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