Social Security After the Death of a Spouse

by Roy Sylvan ; Updated July 27, 2017
Social Security provides survivor benefits.

Dealing with the death of a spouse is physically and emotionally challenging. Not least for many people is worry about finances and the care of dependent children. Social Security is designed to assist in this difficult time with benefits that the deceased spouse earned by payroll payments into the system.

Who Receives Benefits When a Worker Dies?

Widows, widowers, including those divorced, children and dependent parents may be eligible for benefits when you die. The full benefits your spouse is entitled to begin at her retirement age, which as of 2010 is 66. Reduced spouse benefits can begin as early as age 60. As early as age 50, a disabled spouse can get benefits.

A spouse can receive benefits at any age if he takes care of your children who are younger than 16, or disabled and receive Social Security benefits. Unmarried children can get benefits if they are younger than age 18 or at any age if they were disabled before age 22. Under certain circumstances, benefits may be paid to your stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children.

Parents who received at least half their support from you can receive benefits if they are age 62 or older.

Benefits for Surviving Divorced Spouses

If your marriage lasted 10 years or more, your former spouse who is at least 60 years old or older, or at least 50 if disabled, can also get benefits. If your former spouse is caring for a child who is younger than 16 and who is eligible for your benefits, she does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage requirements.

One-Time Death Payment

Your spouse or child is eligible to receive a one-time payment of $255 that can be made when you die if you have worked long enough and if they meet certain requirements.

How do You Earn Survivors Insurance?

While working, you pay Social Security taxes that earn credits toward your Social Security benefits. The age when you die determines the number of years you need to have worked for your spouse and family to be covered for survivor benefits. The younger you are, the fewer years you need to work.

What if Your Spouse Works or Remarries?

Your spouse's benefits may be reduced if she works, is under the full retirement age or her earnings exceed certain limits. There is no earnings limit beginning with the month she reaches full retirement age. Your spouse’s earnings will reduce only her benefits, not the benefits of other family members.

If your spouse remarries before age 60, he will not get your survivor benefits. But remarriage after age 60 (or age 50 if disabled) usually will not prevent him from getting benefit payments based on your work credits.

About the Author

Roy Sylvan has a Ph.D. in communication studies. He directed a large city department of aging, was COO of a consulting company and provided management training to companies and nonprofits. Writing for more than 40 years, Sylvan has authored articles in trade journals, magazines and blogs, and wrote a how-to book on starting a business.

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