Understanding Social Security Survivor Benefits 

When a person works, a part of their earnings are taxed and set aside by the government for Social Security. This is a mandatory contribution for all workers, which is eventually paid out as a retirement benefit to eligible workers and retirees.  

The Social Security Administration has existed for over 80 years. Social Security benefits replace a percentage of pre-retirement income based on lifetime earnings. At retirement age, Social Security provides a small replacement income. Retirees (or those approaching retirement age) can call 1-800-772-1213 for more information or to apply for benefits. Individuals can also visit the Social Security Administration website to find an office location in their area.  

When a worker dies, survivors can claim certain death benefits. Survivors generally include a spouse, children, or parents—typically in that order. It is important to note that fewer benefits are available to families where the deceased was a younger person (due to lack of years paid into the Social Security system).  

  •  A lump sum of $225 is generally paid out to eligible survivors in this order:  
  • Widow/widower aged 60+ living in the same household as the deceased — or a disabled spouse aged 50+ (if disabled within seven years of spouse’s death). 
  • Surviving a divorced spouse, under special circumstances. 
  • Widow of any age caring for the decedent’s child/children. The child/children must be under the age of 16, a disabled adult over the age of 18, or a full-time student up to age 19 and attending elementary or secondary school. 
  • Children of the deceased. 
  • Parents of the deceased aged 62 or older, if they have been dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support. 
  • If a spouse or survivor was already receiving Social Security benefits, those benefits auto-convert to survivor’s benefits when Social Security is notified of a death. 

Monthly benefits are available for some survivors. It is best to contact Social Security to determine eligibility, being that every family’s situation is unique. The SSA Benefit Eligibility Screening tool is available at Survivors must apply for benefits within two years of the death. If applying for death benefits based on the disability status of an adult survivor, an Adult Disability Report is available online at the Social Security Administration website. For additional or more detailed information, please call 1-800-772-1213 to contact Social Security. If hard of hearing or deaf, contact 1-800-325-0778 for assistance. 

Further information on claiming benefits can be found here.

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