How to Get Survivor’s Benefits After a Spouse Dies

How to Get Survivor’s Benefits After a Spouse Dies
Mike Valles
Sooner or later, retired people are going to pass away. When they do, they may leave behind family members who have long counted on the deceased individual’s income for their support, including their Social Security income. After the death of the loved one, Social Security benefits may be available to the surviving spouse or family members.

Possible Recipients of Social Security Benefits After a Death

Once someone dies who was eligible to receive benefits, several people may be able to draw their Social Security retirement benefits. A surviving spouse who is 60 or older can get benefits; or a spouse if they are disabled and 50 or older. The Social Security Administration (SSA) also says that if a surviving spouse is caring for a child of the deceased who is younger than 16, or if the child is disabled and already receiving benefits for children, they also can get survivor’s benefits.

Children may also be eligible to receive benefits. They need to be younger than 18 or not older than 19 if they are a full-time student. Disabled children can get the benefits if they have a disability that started before they reached 22.

Other children may be able to get benefits in some situations, including stepchildren, a stepgrandchild, or an adopted child. If the parents of the deceased received more than half of their support from the deceased and are 62 or older, they are also eligible for benefits.

Social Security Benefits for a Divorced Spouse

Sometimes, a spouse who divorced the Social Security earner can get the same benefits as a current spouse. If they are eligible, it would not decrease the amount given to the current spouse.
Divorced spouses not yet Social Security retirement age do not qualify for Social Security benefits if they remarry. Getting remarried after you turn 60 will not affect your eligibility for benefits.

Carefully Determine When to Start Getting Survivor’s Benefits

When you start getting survivor’s benefits, the amount you can receive depends on your age. If you are not yet of full retirement age and file for Social Security, you will get less than what you could get if you waited until you reached full retirement age. For each year you wait, you receive an additional 8 percent more. If you are 62 when you start getting benefits, you will only get about 70 percent of what you could get if you wait until you are 66 or 67.
As a worker, if you take Social Security benefits early, Money.USNews says it will reduce your benefits permanently. It sets the amount you will get from then on.

It also affects how much your spouse will get after you are gone. The spouse will only be eligible to get the same amount you received. The only way a surviving spouse could get more is to claim their own benefits later—if it is higher than the benefits the deceased spouse received.

A spouse who claims survivor benefits sometime between the age of 60 and full retirement age is only entitled to 71.5–99.0 percent of the deceased spouse’s benefit. Waiting longer enables you to get a higher percentage.

Benefits of Those Who Never Married

Two people living together may find themselves without any Social Security benefits. CNBC says some states may count their relationships as a common law marriage. Other states may not, and if you live in one of them, you may suddenly find that you are without any benefits.

Social Security Benefits and Estate Planning

Getting as much as possible in your Social Security payments, CNBC says, could be highly beneficial in your estate planning later on. Since other sources of income may not be reliable if the stock market crashes or if interest rates do not return to higher levels, you may need the money from Social Security to help pay medical bills or to get by.
Remember also that the SSA has announced that there could be a reduction in Social Security benefits around 2034. It could be significant—possibly as much as 20 percent, unless Congress acts to ensure it remains adequately funded.

The One-Time Death Benefit

After the death of a spouse, Social Security will pay a one-time death benefit of $255 to the surviving spouse. If the spouse was not living with the deceased at the time of death but was already receiving benefits based on the dead person’s record, they may be able to get the death benefit. If there is no spouse, the death benefit will go to an eligible child based on the deceased individual’s record.

How to Get Survivor’s Benefits

The amount of money your spouse received each month from Social Security is the same amount the surviving spouse will receive. AARP says that if you were already getting payments based on your spouse’s benefits, most likely, you will be switched automatically to receive the spouse’s benefits.

Usually, all the SSA needs for you to get survivor’s benefits is to be notified of the spouse’s death. You cannot do this online. You must call the SSA at (800) 772-1213 or let the funeral director know to notify the SSA. You will want to follow up to ensure the SSA is aware of the death.

When the death is the result of an accident or because the spouse was in the U.S. military, there is no requirement for the length of the marriage. Otherwise, the requirements are that you need to be at least 60 years old and have been married for at least nine months. If you marry at 59, you probably will not be entitled to get your deceased spouse’s benefits.

Survivor’s benefits can be a real lifesaver for those with little or no other income. By applying right away, you can get the financial help you need. If you need help applying for benefits or to get help for other financial issues, talk to a financial advisor.

The Epoch Times copyright © 2023. The views and opinions expressed are those of the authors. They are meant for general informational purposes only and should not be construed or interpreted as a recommendation or solicitation. The Epoch Times does not provide investment, tax, legal, financial planning, estate planning, or any other personal finance advice. The Epoch Times holds no liability for the accuracy or timeliness of the information provided.
Mike Valles has been a freelance writer for many years and focuses on personal finance articles. He writes articles and blog posts for companies and lenders of all sizes and seeks to provide quality information that is up-to-date and easy to understand.