Under Social Security law, when a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, certain members of that person’s family may be eligible for survivor benefits, including spouses, former spouses and dependents.
How much you’ll receive will depend on how much money (earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes) your spouse or ex-spouse made over their lifetime and the age in which you apply for survivor benefits.
If you wait until your full retirement age, which is 66 for people born in 1945-1954 and will gradually increase to age 67 for people born in 1960 or later, you’ll receive 100 of your deceased spouses or ex-spouses benefit amount. If you apply between age 60 and your full retirement age, your benefit will be somewhere between 71.5-99 percent of their benefit.
There is, however, one exception. Surviving spouses and ex-spouses that are caring for a child (or children) of the deceased worker, and they are under age 16 or disabled, are eligible to receive 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount at any age.
In addition to survivor benefits, a surviving spouse or child may also be eligible to receive a special lump-sum death payment of $255.
Be aware that Social Security has limits on how much a family can receive in monthly survivors’ benefits, which is usually 150 to 180 percent of the worker’s benefit.
Social Security also provides surviving spouses and ex-spouses some nice strategies that can help boost benefits. For example, if you’ve worked you could take a reduced survivor benefit at age 60 and switch to your own retirement benefit based on your earnings history — between 62 and 70 — if it offers a higher payment.
If you’re already receiving retirement benefits on your work record, you could switch to survivors benefits if it offers a higher payment. You cannot receive both benefits.
If you collect a survivor benefit while working and are under full retirement age, your benefits may be reduced depending on your earnings — see SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf.
For more information on survivor benefits, visit SSA.gov/benefits/survivors.