Social Security is known for providing retirement benefits, but Social Security also provides survivors benefits to spouses and children, and to dependent parents. Nearly 40 percent of Social Security recipients are non-retirees, according to the Social Security Administration. Social Security regulations cover situations you never considered and those you thought could never happen to you, including the death of a spouse you recently married.
Social Security established benefits to provide income for dependents and survivors in 1939, just four years after retirement benefits were developed. In addition to requirements that the deceased must meet, survivors and dependents must also qualify for survivors benefits.
The deceased worker must have sufficient work credits paid into the Social Security system for survivors and dependents to collect benefits. No one needs more than 40 credits or 10 years of benefits to collect any Social Security benefits, but some need less. A special rule applies to deceased workers. Six credits in the last three years before death meet the qualifications for survivors benefits.
Entitlement to survivors benefits by a spouse generally requires a minimum marriage of nine months' duration immediately prior to the death. Numerous regulations affect the general nine-month rule. If you married a worker not expected to live at least nine months when you married him, you may not be able to collect benefits on his work history under some circumstances. If you have a child with the deceased worker, there is no minimum marriage requirement. If you were married two years prior to the worker’s death and if you otherwise meet the requirements, you can apply for Social Security survivors benefits on his work history. A widow or widower cannot get survivors benefits if remarried prior to age 60.
Surviving spouses should apply for Social Security survivors benefits as soon as they have the paperwork and information available. Include birth certificates, the marriage certificate, the worker’s Social Security statement and W-2 forms as well as the death certificate of the worker. Benefits are retroactive to the date of application.
Contact the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or at your local office for questions or assistance, particularly if you have children with the deceased. Children are often entitled to survivors benefits, and special rules apply to disabled children and caretakers. Get the Social Security office to deny benefits on paper if a government employee suggests you may not qualify and you believe you might.
- Social Security Reform: History of Social Security
- Social Security Online: Planning for Your Survivors
- Social Security Online: Marriage Requirement to Receive Survivors Benefits
- Social Security Online: Widow’s or Widower’s Benefits If I Remarry
- Social Security Online: Publication 05-10084: Survivors Benefits