Social Security provides retirement benefits for the worker who reaches retirement age. If the worker dies, qualifying survivors may collect survivor benefits based on the work history of the deceased worker. A spouse caring for a deceased’s minor child can qualify for survivor benefits at any age. A spouse age 60 or older can collect Social Security survivor benefits as well.
Deceased Must Qualify
If your spouse received Social Security benefits, then Social Security will have checked qualifications at the time retirement benefits started. An individual must have a minimum of 10 years or 40 credits of employment paying Social Security taxes to receive benefits. Deceased workers may have fewer credits to meet qualifications.
Social Security bases retirement benefit calculations on average lifetime earnings. These same calculations carry over for survivor benefits calculations.
Survivor Must Qualify
A survivor must prove marriage to the deceased and must be a minimum of 60 years old unless caring for deceased’s child who is under 16. The survivor must not remarry prior to age 60, or age 50 if disabled. If you are receiving Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s work history, notification to Social Security changes your payments from spousal benefits to survivor benefits.
You will likely receive an increase in monthly benefits once Social Security makes the change, as spousal benefits at full retirement age are 50 percent of the worker’s benefits. Survivor benefits are 71.5 percent or more of the worker's benefits, depending on the age of the survivor.
Expected Benefit Amounts
The full retirement age in 2020 is 66 years and 2 months for people born in 1955; this age gradually rises to 67 for those born in later years. Generally, individuals can start receiving their retirement benefit at any point from age 62 up until age 70 in 2020, and the benefit will be higher the longer it is delayed.
The expected benefit amount for surviving spouses depends on their retirement age. At the full retirement age of 66 to 67, the surviving spouse may receive 100 percent of the deceased spouse’s monthly benefit. The surviving spouse receives 71.5 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit at age 60, or age 50 if disabled.
The Social Security Administration calculates benefits for a spouse between the age of 60 and full retirement age on a sliding scale from 71.5 percent and 100 percent. If the deceased spouse collected early Social Security benefits, Social Security bases survivor benefits on the early benefits calculation and not on full retirement age calculations.
Other Considerations for Benefits
Qualifying survivors include minor or disabled children, spouses and sometimes parents. If several survivors qualify for benefits based on a deceased worker’s history, Social Security pays a maximum benefit equal to 150 percent to 180 percent of the worker’s benefit while alive. This may reduce all benefits, including those of a spouse, to comply with the maximum calculation. A spouse who remarries after age 60 may collect benefits at age 62 based on the new spouse's benefits, if those benefits are greater.
- AARP: Can I Collect My Deceased Spouse’s Social Security and My Own at the Same Time?
- Social Security Administration: When to Start Receiving Retirement Benefits
- Social Security Administration. "Social Security History: Fifty Years of Social Security." Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits," Page 1. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits," Page 4. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits," Page 7. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits," Page 10. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Retirement Benefits," Page 9. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Benefit Planner: Survivors, If You Are the Survivor." Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Disability Insurance Trust Fund." Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
- Social Security Administration. "Disability Benefits," Page 10. Accessed Feb. 21, 2020.
Linda Richard has been a legal writer and antiques appraiser for more than 25 years, and has been writing online for more than 12 years. Richard holds a bachelor's degree in English and business administration. She has operated a small business for more than 20 years. She and her husband enjoy remodeling old houses and are currently working on a 1970s home.