The Social Security Administration sends survivor benefits to about 6 million Americans every month. These payments are directed to family members of workers who have passed away. A widow, widower, child or other dependent might receive survivor benefits. The claim for survivor payments can be made if the deceased was eligible to receive Social Security benefits. Read on to learn if you might qualify for survivor benefits and how much can be claimed.
Social Security Survivor Benefits for a Spouse
If your spouse passes away and you are 60 or older, you may be eligible for survivor benefits. Widows and widowers who are under age 60 and caring for a child who is younger than 16 or disabled may also be able to receive benefits. Spouses who are 50 or older and disabled may also qualify. "An ex-spouse has the same benefits as a widow or widower if the marriage lasted at least 10 years," says Kate Slocum, a certified financial planner and lead advisor at Exchange Capital Management in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
Social Security Survivor Benefits for a Child
Children of a deceased person who are not married and under age 18, or up to age 19 if still in high school, could receive benefits. Sons and daughters who are unmarried and were disabled before age 22 might also qualify. A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild or adopted child might also be eligible in certain circumstances. In some cases, others may be able to receive survivor benefits. Parents, step-parents or adoptive parents who are at least age 62 and dependent on the deceased could qualify for benefits.
How to Claim Social Security Widower and Widow Benefits
Unlike other Social Security benefits, you won't be able to apply for survivor benefits online. "The surviving spouse will need to either call or visit a Social Security office to apply for the survivor benefit," says Tim Adams, a certified public accountant and registered Social Security analyst in Dayton, Ohio.
For survivor benefits to begin, the death will need to be reported. Funeral homes often report a person's death as part of their services. If you choose to have the funeral home take care of the death report, remember to provide the Social Security number of the deceased person.
You'll need several documents to apply for Social Security survivor benefits. These might include:
-- A death certificate for the deceased.
-- The Social Security number of the deceased worker.
-- Social Security numbers for yourself and dependent children.
-- Birth and marriage certificates.
-- Latest W-2 forms.
-- Bank information for direct deposit.
After you share the forms and certificates, you'll learn if you are eligible to receive benefits.
How Much You'll Receive for SSA Survivor Benefits
The survivor benefit you receive each month will depend on several factors. "The benefit amount is based on the deceased's earnings," Slocum says. "The more that was paid into Social Security, the higher the benefits." It will also be based on whether the deceased was collecting full or reduced benefits at the time of death. The age of the person applying for survivor benefits can impact the amount too.
In addition to monthly payments, you might receive an initial, separate amount. "There is a lump sum death benefit of $255 available to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the deceased or receiving Social Security benefits off the deceased's record," Adams says. In cases where there is no surviving spouse, this lump sum could be sent to a child. If sent to a child, the child must already be receiving benefits on the deceased's record or be eligible for benefits at the time of death.
How Social Security Benefits Change After a Spouse Passes Away
If your spouse passes away and you are 60 or older, you might have several decisions to make regarding benefits. "Instead of taking widow benefits right away, sometimes it is better to start your own benefits first and then switch to survivor at your full retirement age," says Bill Meyer, CEO of Social Security Solutions in Overland Park, Kansas. This is because if you receive survivor benefits early, you won't receive the full amount. "When you take survivor benefits before full retirement age, your benefits are reduced the rest of your life," Meyer says. Before making a decision, compare what you would receive if you start survivor benefits early, or begin your retirement benefits first and then switch to survivor benefits at full retirement age when they are at their highest level.
If you and the deceased were both receiving benefits prior to the death, you won't continue to receive both benefits. "A person can only receive one benefit at a time," Adams says. "When one spouse passes first, the survivor will receive the highest of the two individual benefits."
Say you were receiving a benefit of $1,500 every month and your spouse received $2,000 a month. If your spouse passes away, you would receive the higher amount of $2,000 each month. In cases where the surviving spouse has the higher of the two benefits for the couple, "You'd simply want to make sure the death has been reported to Social Security to stop benefits to the deceased spouse," Adams says.
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