Who Gets Social Security Survival Benefits?

Social Security isn’t just for retirement. If you become disabled, you might be able to start collecting it much sooner, provided you meet the qualifications. In addition, if you die early, certain family members can get a monthly Social Security check based on your earnings. There are many nuances in the survivor’s benefit program, some of which are known only to Social Security workers. However, certain basic facts are a matter of record.

Surviving Spouse

This won't kick in until you turn 60, but you might be able to get a monthly check from Social Security then if you're a surviving spouse. The age limit drops to 50 for disabled surviving spouses. If the deceased spouse has a child who is disabled, 16 or younger, or for whom you provide care, your age is unimportant. Former spouses might qualify if the marriage lasted at least 10 years, but they can't remarry before the age of 60 and continue to receive the benefits.


The children of a deceased worker qualify for survivor’s benefits if they are unmarried and younger than 18. That extends to 19-year-olds if they're still full-time high school students. Children who became disabled before turning 22 can qualify for benefits for the duration of their disability. Adopted children are normally treated the same as the natural children. Grandchildren and stepchildren may or may not qualify, but only the Social Security folks can say for sure. They determine eligibility for them on a case-by-case basis.


Okay, you might have expected spouses and children to qualify. However, you might be interested to know your parents might also be able to qualify for survivor benefits if you kick the bucket. To be eligible, a parent must be at least 62 years of age. You must have been providing at least 50 percent of their support.

Benefit Amounts

Survivor benefits are a certain percentage of what the deceased was receiving or would have received from Social Security. It's based on the beneficiary's age and qualifying status. Surviving spouses qualify for 100 percent if they make it to their own full retirement age; otherwise, the payments range between 71.5 and 99 percent. Regardless of the surviving spouse's age, the rate is 75 percent is that spouse is caring for the deceased’s child. The child, who again must be 16 or less, gets 75 percent as well. If both of your parents are still alive, each is eligible for 75 percent. If only one is still living, the percentage is 82.5 percent.


There is, of course, a cap on payments. Social Security won’t pay out more than 150 to 180 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount, regardless of how many people qualify. If the total percentages exceed this amount, like when a worker leaves behind four children, two parents and a spouse, the benefit gets prorated and everyone gets a reduced share.

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