Taking care of finances becomes a priority after the loss of a spouse. Social Security provides life insurance benefits to spouses for workers who had sufficient work credits during their lifetime. The monthly annuity to the spouse depends on the income of the worker in the years prior to death. In addition to the worker qualifying with work history, the spouse must qualify for survivors benefits.
Eligibility of Deceased
An older deceased spouse can usually easily qualify for Social Security benefits with 10 years or 40 credits of work history, but the younger spouse might not have 10 years of work history. Although 10 years is standard for retirement benefits, Social Security allows different standards for survivors benefits, including six credits over the three years immediately prior to death. Social Security bases all benefits on the full retirement age of the worker. Full retirement age is 65 for workers born before 1943 and 66 for workers born from 1943 to 1954. Social Security regulations set full retirement age at 67 for individuals born after 1959, and those born from 1955 to 1959 move from 66 to 67 in two-month increments.
Eligibility of Surviving Spouse
The surviving spouse with a child of the deceased who is under 16 may qualify for survivors benefits at any age. With no child, the surviving spouse must be 60, or 50 if disabled. The surviving spouse must not be married to qualify for survivors benefits, but may marry after age 60 with no effect on benefits. A surviving ex-spouse who was married to the deceased for 10 years may qualify for survivor benefits as well.
Benefit Amount with a Child
A surviving spouse with the deceased’s minor child under the age of 16 receives 75 percent of the benefit the worker would receive at full retirement age. Social Security makes this figure available on the Social Security statement issued each year, or the survivor may request the information from Social Security. The deceased’s minor child also receives 75 percent of the benefit the worker would receive at full retirement age. The minor child qualifies until age 18, or 19 if in secondary school. A disabled child may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits as an adult.
Benefit Amount for Spouse
A surviving spouse receives 71.5 percent of the deceased worker’s full retirement age benefit at 60, or 50 if disabled. The spouse receives 100 percent of the deceased worker’s full retirement age benefit at full retirement age unless the worker received early retirement benefits before death. In that case, all benefits are based on the early retirement benefit. The spouse also receives a lump-sum payment of $255 from Social Security but must make application.