How Long Will I Receive Social Security Survivor Benefits?

You and your child may be entitled to Social Security survivors' benefits.

You and your child may be entitled to Social Security survivors' benefits.

You may be eligible for survivor's benefits from Social Security if your spouse dies. Each of your surviving children may also qualify. You can get benefits even if you were divorced if you had one or more children together or the marriage lasted for at least 10 years. How long you continue to meet the eligibility requirements determines for how long you can receive benefits.

Applying for Benefits

Social Security generally pays benefits from the time you apply and not from the time the person died. Therefore, it’s important to apply for survivors' benefits as soon as possible to receive benefits for as long as possible. When you apply for benefits, you must provide your spouse’s social security number and death certificate. You will also need to show your marriage certificate. Social Security will need the birth certificates and social security numbers of any dependent children who are receiving benefits based on your spouse's earnings record. The amount of benefits you and your children will receive depends on the deceased's average lifetime earnings. If you have no children who qualify for survivors’ benefits, you will not receive a monthly benefit until your normal retirement age.

Your Children's Benefits

An unmarried child may be eligible to receive Social Security survivor's benefits until age 18, or age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full-time. In addition, a person’s natural child or stepchild, an adopted child may also qualify to receive benefits. Although eligible children will continue to receive benefits until age 18, the benefits you receive as the children's caregiver will end when youngest child turns 16-years-old.

Understanding Survivors' Benefits

Even if you are working, you can receive reduced widow or widower benefits at any age if you care for the deceased’s child who is younger than age 16 or disabled. Your earnings reduce the benefits you receive, but not your children's benefits. You will receive benefits as long as a disabled child remains in your care. If you are younger than your full retirement age and receiving Social Security survivor's benefits, you will receive reduced benefits if the amount of your earnings exceeds the annual earnings limit for Social Security. A child permanently disabled before age 22 is entitled to survivor's benefits at any age and will continue to receive benefits as long as disabled.

Divorced Widow or Widower

If you are a former spouse, you can receive survivor's benefits regardless of age or length of marriage for as long as you care for any child of your former spouse younger than age 16 or disabled. Social Security will need to see your divorce papers when you apply for benefits. If you remarry before age 60, you are no longer eligible to receive survivor's benefits. Your remarriage does not affect the benefits your children receive, however.

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About the Author

Amber Keefer has more than 25 years of experience working in the fields of human services and health care administration. Writing professionally since 1997, she has written articles covering business and finance, health, fitness, parenting and senior living issues for both print and online publications. Keefer holds a B.A. from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania and an M.B.A. in health care management from Baker College.

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