February 14, 2019 • Retirement 101 / Articles and Insights

What Do I need to Know About Social Security Survivor Benefits

Social Security payments are one of the few things in life that can continue after death. Designed to help support spouses after the death of a husband or wife, Social Security survivor benefits allow a widow or widower to continue receiving the Social Security payments of their spouse, if that benefit is higher than his or her own. Today, there are approximately five million widows and widowers collecting monthly survivor benefits based on the earnings record of their deceased spouses—but this program is still misunderstood by some.
Do you have a full understanding of how and when survivor benefits are available? If you don’t, you are not alone. Let’s review some basics.

Who is Eligible for Survivor Benefits?

While most survivor benefits are paid to the deceased’s surviving spouse or, in some cases, even their surviving ex-spouse, survivor benefits may also be paid to eligible family members such as children and dependent parents.

How Do I Claim Survivor Benefits?

If you’re faced with the death of a loved one, it’s important that you visit your local Social Security office or contact Social Security by phone to schedule an appointment as soon after the death as possible. The funeral home handling the arrangements generally will notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of your loved one’s death. SSA will be able to explain the amount of your survivor benefit as well as your filing options. You may also be entitled to a one-time benefit payment of $255.

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If you’re faced with the death of a loved one, it’s important that you visit your local Social Security office or contact Social Security by phone to schedule an appointment as soon after the death as possible. 

How Old Must I Be to Claim Survivor Benefits?

In most cases, you’re eligible to claim survivor benefits at age 60, unless you were disabled within seven years of your spouse’s death or are caring for an eligible dependent; in those cases, you may be eligible to claim benefits sooner than age 60.

How Much Are Survivor Benefits?

Generally, the amount of your monthly survivor benefit is based on the benefit your deceased spouse was collecting or was entitled to collect at the time of his or her death. Keep in mind that if your spouse earned delayed retirement credits by claiming benefits later than his or her full retirement age, you are also entitled to those credits as the survivor.
If you’re already collecting Social Security benefits at the time of your spouse’s death, you’ll only receive the survivor benefit if it is greater than what you are already collecting. If you’re eligible for both a survivor benefit and a retirement benefit based on your earnings but have not yet collected a benefit, you have another option: you can choose to collect the smaller benefit first, and later switch to the higher benefit. This option could potentially provide more income when you reach age 70. If you fall into this category, you may want to seek guidance from a financial professional to create a strategy that optimizes your benefits.
Keep in mind that, just like retirement benefits, survivor benefits claimed prior to your full retirement age will be reduced. And, if you’re still working at the time you make your early claim, there is an earnings limitation that may cause your benefit to be further reduced.
Losing a loved one is a stressful event, so understanding your options ahead of time can make a hard time a little easier. For more information, visit the Survivor Benefits page on the Social Security Administration website or consult with your financial professional.

Not affiliated with the Social Security Administration or any other governmental agency.

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