Social Security Spousal Death Benefits

by Rod Howell
Spouses receive a special lump-sum death benefit from the Social Security Administration.

Each year millions of widows and widowers receive billions in survivors benefits from the Social Security Administration. If you're a surviving spouse, you are entitled to monthly survivors benefits once your spouse, who had met the work requirements of the Social Security Administration, passes away. Your benefit amounts are based on your deceased spouse's history of earnings. Ex-spouses are also eligible to receive survivors benefits.


In 2009, more than 4.4 million widows and widowers in the United States received $4.8 billion in survivors benefits each month. For you to receive survivors benefits, your deceased spouse would have had to accumulate the required number of work credits. The Social Security Administration generally requires 40 work credits; but if he died before reaching this amount, he may still qualify with less if he died at a young age. A work credit is earned for every $1,120 made annually. A maximum of four is earned once he makes $4,480.

Spouse Requirements

For you to be eligible for survivors benefits as a widow or widower, you have to be at least 60 years of age. You can receive benefit payments as early as 50 if you are disabled. You can be any age and get survivors benefits if you are taking care of your deceased spouse's children who are under the age of 16. If you remarry after age 60, you are still eligible to receive benefits off of your deceased spouse's earnings record.

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Ex-Spouse Requirements

As a divorced spouse, you can receive Social Security survivors benefits off of your former spouse's record if you meet the same age requirements as a surviving spouse. You must also have been married to her for at least 10 years. However, this marriage doesn't apply if you are caring for her children who are under 16 or disabled.

Payment Amounts

Social Security survivors benefit amounts are based on your age. For example, you receive 100 percent of the full benefit rate if you are at full retirement age, which is 66 if you were born after 1945 and 67 after 1962. However, you only receive 71.5 percent if you are between 60 to full retirement age or 50 to 59 if you're disabled. If you are caring for your deceased spouse's children under 16, you receive 71.5 percent at any age. These rules apply to you if you're an ex-spouse as well.

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