Social Security Survivors’ Benefits

Social Security is best known as a retirement program, but Social Security also includes survivor insurance. When a deceased worker has paid into Social Security, certain family members may be eligible for survivor insurance.  To be eligible, the deceased worker must have credit for work covered by Social Security, ranging from one and one-half to ten years depending on the age at death.


The amount of benefits paid to survivors depends on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased worker.  The higher the earnings, the greater the amount of benefits.  However, a survivor’s earnings may reduce the amount he or she is entitled to under Social Security.

Monthly benefits

Eligible survivors include:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled), or at any age if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
  • A divorced widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted ten years, or if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
  • Unmarried children under age 18 and age 19 if they are attending a primary or secondary school full time; and under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.
  • Children who were disabled before reaching 22, as long as they remained disabled.
  • Dependent parent or parents 62 or older.
  • Lump-Sum Death Payment

A one time payment of $255 is paid in addition to the monthly cash benefits described above if the deceased worker has sufficient work credits.  The lump-sum death payment is paid in the following priority order:

  • A surviving spouse who lived in the same household as the deceased person at the time of death.
  • A surviving spouse eligible for social security benefits on the deceased’s earnings record for the month of death.
  • Children eligible for benefits for the month of death when there is no surviving spouse.

An application must be filed to receive survivor benefits. You may apply at any Social Security office or, if you wish, you may apply by telephone.  Just call 1-800-772-1213.  Information needed to apply for benefits includes:

  • Death certificate
  • Social security numbers — the deceased, the applicant, dependent children
  • Applicant’s birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate and divorce papers, as applicable
  • W-2 forms or federal self employment tax return for deceased worker for most recent year
  • Bank and account number for direct deposit of benefits

If you are already receiving benefits as a husband or wife on your spouse’s record when she or he dies, immediately report the death to Social Security to have your payments changed to survivor benefits.

If you are receiving benefits on your own work record, complete an application and Social Security will determine if you can receive more under survivor benefits.  More information is available by logging on to the Social Security Administration website at