Social Security Benefits for Widows & Orphans

••• Jupiterimages/Brand X Pictures/Getty Images

When a working husband or father passes away, it may be difficult for you to join the workforce or find the help you need to suffice without him. The Social Security Administration has a Survivors Benefits program in addition to its well-known Retirement, Disability, and Medicare programs. If you are the survivor of a husband, wife, or parent who worked at least 10 years while paying Social Security taxes, you are probably qualified to receive survivor benefits.


Survivors benefits are paid to widows, widowers, surviving divorced spouses, dependent parents of the deceased and minor or disabled children. They are intended to supplement living expenses in the absence of the deceased, but some survivors choose to use their own Social Security Retirement benefits or Disability benefits if they pay a higher amount.


According to Social Security Online, in September 2010, 6.3 million people received survivors insurance. Most beneficiaries (4.1 million) were aged widows or widowers, followed by 1.8 million dependent children, 240,664 disabled widows/widowers, 156,547 young widowers and 1,572 parents. Where almost 4 million non-disabled beneficiaries were women, only just over 64,000 were men. The average benefit paid to all survivors was $994.15 a month.


A widow may receive reduced survivor's benefits at age 60 at the earliest, though she can opt to wait until full retirement age to receive full benefits. A disabled widow may receive survivor's benefits as early as age 50, and a widow of any age may receive benefits if she is responsible for a child of the deceased who is under age 16 or disabled. Stepchildren, grandchildren, and adopted children may also qualify for benefits on a case-specific basis.


To apply for survivor's benefits, you must call either your local Social Security office or the SSA main line at 800-772-1213 to set up an appointment in your city. You will be instructed as to which documents you need to bring to your appointment, though generally you need your Social Security number, birth certificate, tax returns, marriage certificate, and work/income information.

Other Benefits

Aside from survivor's benefits, you may be eligible for additional benefits depending on your situation. If you had been relying on your spouse due to a disability that keeps you out of work, you may qualify for Disability Insurance or Supplemental Security Income (SSI). If you have dependent children, you may also qualify for SSI or a variety of state-run Social Security programs. Contact your local Social Security office to learn about other forms of assistance.