4 Eligibility Requirements for Survivor Benefits

Published on: October 29, 2019


If you were married to someone who is now deceased, you may be entitled to Social Security Disability Income (SSDI) benefits. These benefits operate similarly to an insurance program; everyone pays into Social Security through a portion of the taxes taken out of their income. Should you ever become disabled and can no longer work, you can apply to receive disability benefits from this fund.

As a widow or widower, you are also able to collect what the Social Security Administration (SSA) calls “survivor benefits.” These benefits are income available to the surviving families of workers who have passed away. They can apply to the following family members:
  • Surviving Spouses (Widow or widower)

  • Surviving Divorced Spouses (If the marriage lasted ten years or more and you have not remarried before age 60.)

  • Children

  • Dependent Parents (Parents aged 62 or older and dependent upon the deceased for at least half of their income.)

While any of these family members may be eligible for survivor benefits, the SSA has listed four different ways of evaluating your benefits claim if you are a widow or widower.

4 Eligibility Requirements for Survivor Benefits

The Social Security Administration has various eligibility requirements depending on which program (SSDI, SSI, retirement, etc) you are applying for. If you are a widow or widower, you must meet one of the following age requirements to be eligible for your deceased spouse’s SSDI survivor benefits.

  1. The widow or widower is eligible to receive full benefits if they are at the full retirement age. The full retirement age for survivors who were born between 1945-1956 is 66; the full retirement age for those born in 1962 or later will gradually increase to age 67.

  2. The widow or widower is eligible to receive reduced survivor benefits if they are between the ages of 60 and their full retirement age.

  3. Disabled widows or widowers are eligible to receive reduced survivor benefits if they are between the ages of 50 and their full retirement age.

  4. The widow or widower is eligible to receive survivor benefits at any age if they are caring for the deceased spouse’s natural or adopted child if that child is receiving Social Security benefits and is either younger than 16 or disabled.

A Few Basics About Survivor Benefits

There are a few other specifications and things to note about your eligibility for receiving survivor benefits that aren’t necessarily related to the surviving spouse’s age. For example, neither the deceased spouse nor the surviving spouse needs to work for more than ten years in order to be eligible. However, the SSA does have a “special rule” that if you’ve worked for only one and a half years in the past three years just before your spouse’s death, the SSA can pay benefits to your children and to you if you are caring for the children.

Even though your deceased spouse was working and paying into Social Security, your survivor benefits will likely be reduced if you are working. This is also dependent on whether your earnings exceed a certain limit and if you are younger than the full retirement age.

If you have remarried and are over sixty years old (or fifty and are disabled), you should still be eligible for receiving survivor benefits. However, if you choose to remarry and are under sixty years old, then you are ineligible to collect survivor benefits.

One-Time Death Payment

When a person dies, the SSA will make a one-time payment to the survivor depending on how long the deceased had worked. In order for the survivor to receive this one-time payment of $255, he or she has to apply for it within two years of the date of death. The only survivors eligible to receive this payment are the surviving spouse or child if they meet certain SSA requirements.

Estimating Your Amount

The SSA provides a few formulas you can use to estimate your potential survivor benefits earnings. Do note that a number of benefits you can receive are dependent on the deceased’s average lifetime earnings. The estimate is also available on your Social Security Statement. Essentially, the more the deceased paid into Social Security, the more benefits earnings you will be eligible for.

Each percentage listed also considers the survivor’s age and their relationship to the deceased:

  • The widow or widower who is at full retirement age or older is awarded 100 percent of the deceased’s basic benefit amount.

  • The widow or widower who is age 60 or older but not at the full retirement age is awarded 71½ -99 percent of the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount.

  • The widow or widower at any age and who has a child younger than 16 is awarded 75 percent of the deceased’s benefit amount.

  • A child of a widowed worker is awarded 75 percent of the deceased worker’s benefit amount.

Are You Eligible?

If you are still unsure about how your benefits will be affected by the death of your loved one, contact a compassionate and experienced disability advocate today to fight for the benefits you deserve.

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