Social Security

Understanding Social Security Survivors Benefits

When you pay taxes into the Social Security system, you are not just covering future retirement benefits for yourself. Your spouse, and in some cases even your children, may also receive certain “survivors benefits” after you die. Your spouse may also receive a one-time death benefit from Social Security.

Eligibility for Survivors Benefits

Social Security works on a credit system. For every $1,140 of wages or self-employment income you report, you earn 1 credit. You can earn up to 4 credits per year, assuming your reported income is at least $5,640. Once you obtain 40 credits–the equivalent of working 10 full years–you become eligible for Social Security benefits. However, your spouse or children may receive survivors benefits if you earned just 6 credits in the 3 years before your death.

Social Security Benefits for Spouses

A widow or widower may receive Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse’s record. This includes reduced retirement benefits starting at age 60, or alternatively, full benefits at the surviving spouse’s full retirement age, which is currently 67 for most people. Surviving spouses who have their own earnings record can switch to their own benefits starting at age 62.

There are two other scenarios where a widow or widower may receive survivors benefits. First, if the surviving spouse is at least 50 years old and legally disabled, and the onset of their disability occurred within 7 years of their spouse’s death, then the survivor is entitled to disability benefits based on the deceased spouse’s record if it pays more than claiming on the survivor’s own record. Second, if the surviving spouse is caring for the deceased spouse’s children who are under the age of 16 or disabled, then the surviving spouse can receive survivors benefits at any age, provided the surviving spouse has not remarried. Remarriage does not affect survivors benefits if the remarriage occurs after the survivor turns 60 (or age 50 if the surviving spouse is disabled).

Benefits for Children

An unmarried minor child can receive survivors benefits upon the death of a parent. The child receives benefits until they are age of 18 unless they attend school full-time in which they can receive survivors benefits up to the age of 19. If the child has a qualifying disability that began before the child’s 22nd birthday, then the adult child may be eligible for survivors benefits regardless of age.

Benefits for Ex-Spouses

It is also possible for ex-spouses to receive survivors benefits. A surviving ex-spouse is eligible to receive benefits if their marriage to their deceased former spouse lasted at least 10 years. And as with widows and widowers, an ex-spouse’s remarriage after the age of 60 (or age 50 if disabled) will not affect these survivors benefits.

Death Benefits

As mentioned above, Social Security will also pay out a one-time “death benefit” under certain circumstances. This benefit is $255. It is normally paid to the surviving spouse. If there is no spouse, then the benefit is paid to the deceased worker’s children.

If you want to know more about your private retirement planning may affect your spouse or children, call Promise Law today or contact us here to make an appointment.


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