Social Security Benefits for Surviving Spouses

Social Security spousal benefits enable surviving spouses to afford burial costs and other expenses that they may encounter following the death of their loved one.

Social Security widow benefits may depend on the age of the deceased spouse and how long they have been employed, but they are meant to protect surviving spouses from accruing debt. Spouses must not only understand how to apply for Social Security for their family’s financial well-being upon their death but also how to obtain benefits awarded to them as survivors.

The following sections explain what Social Security is and how it can offer spouses and their family’s financial assistance in these times of need. Additionally, the sections detail the Social Security spousal death benefits that spouses may be entitled to based on their spouse’s credits. Because losing a spouse can cause destabilize a household emotionally and financially, beneficiaries should know how Social Security can help.

What is Social Security?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) distributes Social Security spousal benefits. However, the SSA can only provide widower and widow benefits to qualifying spouses with Social Security numbers (SSNs). As an organization, Social Security is a government program that serves as a source of income for workers and their family members. The tax money paid to the SSA funds the retirement, disability and survivor benefits provided to beneficiaries by adding to trust funds made for each beneficiary.

How do you get survivor benefits?

According to Social Security spousal benefits rules, only certain spouses may receive benefits from the SSA. These spousal benefits are issued to spouses whose partners have secured enough Social Security credit prior to their passing. Social Security spousal benefits eligibility depends on the following factors:

  • How long your spouse has worked. The deceased spouses must have received income from sources that earn Social Security credits. The spouses must have worked at least 10 years to be eligible for benefits supporting their surviving family members, including their spouse.
  • Your age. Social Security distributes benefits in various frequencies (e.g., monthly), and your age determines how often you may receive benefits.
  • Your current benefit allotment. If you already receive Social Security, then you may not be eligible for additional benefits. Understand the eligibility requirements before you apply.
  • Your marital status. Remarried spouses may not qualify for spousal benefits and must report any recent marriages or divorces that have occurred before receiving benefits.

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Note: Children of the deceased may be eligible for spousal benefits if there is no surviving spouse. For instance, unmarried children younger than 18 years old (or 19 years old in some circumstances) may be eligible.

Social Security Spousal Benefits

Social Security spousal benefits are given to beneficiaries via one-time payments for death services and monthly payments. The Social Security widow’s benefit amount for one-time payments is $255 if the spouses had been living together or if the surviving spouse had received Social Security from the deceased when living apart. This one-time payment is delivered to surviving children who can legally receive the benefit if there is no surviving spouse. However, monthly payments are not fixed. Maximum monthly payments to families cannot exceed 150 or 180 percent of the basic benefit rate. All Social Security widow benefits may be issued to eligible family members in full or reduced monthly payments, depending on their age. A list of possible benefit amounts that surviving family members may receive is provided below:

  • Widows or widowers who have reached full retirement age. They can receive 100 percent of the deceased’s benefit allotment.
  • Widows or widowers between the ages of 60 and full retirement age. They can receive 70 to 99 percent of the deceased’s basic benefit allotment.
  • Disabled widows or widowers ages 50 to 59. They may receive up to 72 percent of the deceased’s benefits.
  • Widows or widowers of any age who are caring for a child younger than 16 years old. They can receive up to 75 percent of the deceased’s benefits.
  • Children younger than 18 years old or 19 years old if they are enrolled in school or disabled. They can receive up to 75 percent of the deceased’s benefits.
  • Dependent parents of the deceased 62 years old or older. They can receive up to 83 percent of the deceased’s benefits, but the total benefits they receive is reduced to 75 percent if only one parent is living.

Note: Any Social Security checks issued to the deceased should not be cashed following their death. Additionally, surviving spouses who are not currently receiving spousal benefits must apply for a one-time death payment within two years of the date of death.

How Spousal Benefits Are Distributed

The amount of Social Security spousal benefits you may earn will vary based on the deceased’s employer, age and work credits. However, when you can receive spousal benefits is based on your age and condition. A detailed list explaining how early eligible spouses can claim benefits under Social Security are as follows:

  • Surviving spouses may receive benefits immediately (i.e., at any age) if they have not remarried and care for the deceased’s child who is younger than 16 years of age. They may also qualify if they are disabled and have received disability benefits on the deceased’s record.
  • Surviving spouses may receive benefits at the age of 50 if they are disabled with a disability that originated before, or within seven years of, their partner’s death.
  • Surviving spouses ages 60 and older may receive benefits and switch to their own Social Security when they turn 62 years of age.

Your Social Security spousal benefits will be delivered to you by mail in checks monthly or at one time, depending on your eligibility.

Do divorced spouses qualify for survivor benefits?

A divorced spouse may receive Social Security spousal benefits under some conditions. Spousal death benefits typically apply to spouses living with the deceased at the time of death, receiving Social Security on the deceased’s record or caring for dependent children of the deceased. However, once you are 60 years old, remarriage does not affect your benefits with Social Security, regardless of your initial eligibility for benefits. If you are disabled, you may remarry at 50 years old without sacrificing your benefit eligibility. Spouses are encouraged to apply for Social Security on their spouse’s record if his or her amount is more than the widow benefits they would receive.

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