Upon the death of a spouse, you are eligible for a social security survivor benefit as long as you have been married for at least 9 months. (Length of marriage requirement is waived if you are caring for a child of the deceased spouse who is under the age of 16.)
What Age Can You Begin Your Social Security Survivor Benefit?
- You can collect monthly benefits as early as age 60, but at this age you will only receive about 70% of the amount you could get if you wait until your full retirement age (which is age 66 for people born in 1945-1956 and will gradually increase to age 67 for people born in 1962 or later.)
- If you are disabled you can collect a social security survivor’s benefit as early as age 50.
- You can collect at any age if you are caring for a child of the deceased spouse who is under the age of 16.
How Much In Social Security Survivor Benefits Will You Get?
The actual monthly dollar amount you receive will depend on how much money (earnings that were subject to social security taxes) your spouse made over their lifetime. Each person’s social security statement provides an estimate of survivor’s benefits.
Below are some guidelines to use to help you estimate how much you may get as a social security survivor benefit:
- If you wait until your full retirement age or older to apply for social security survivor benefits, you will receive 100 percent of your deceased spouse’s basic benefit amount.
- If you apply for social security survivor benefits between age 60 and your full retirement age, you will receive somewhere between 71 - 99% of your deceased spouse’s basic benefit amount. (The amount scales up for each month that you are closer to your full retirement age.)
- If you collect a survivor benefit and you have not yet reached full retirement age, you can lose some of your benefits by working. This happens if your earnings are in excess of the earnings limit.
- Survivor’s benefits reflect delayed retirement credits, while spousal benefits (while spouse is alive) do not. This means if your spouse has delayed taking social security (they can delay until their age 70), it will actually result in a higher survivor benefit for you than if they had filed earlier.
- Once you and your spouse are both receiving social security benefits, upon the death of your spouse, you will continue to receive the larger of your benefit, or your spouse’s, but not both.
- At any age, if you are caring for a child younger than age 16, you will receive 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.
- Your are eligible to receive an immediate one-time lump sum payment of $255 upon the death of your spouse.
On the Widows, Widowers & Other Survivors page of the social security website it says:
“There are disadvantages and advantages to taking your survivors benefit before your full retirement age. The advantage is that you collect benefits for a longer period of time. The disadvantage is that your survivor’s benefit may be reduced.”
This decision has a lifelong impact. If your goal is to minimize longevity risk, which is the risk of outliving your money, you will want to consider delaying the start of your benefits as long as possible. If you live longer than average life expectancy, this will result in providing you with a higher total payout from social security.
Documents You Need To Claim A Social Security Survivor Benefit
When you apply for social security survivor benefits you will need to take the following documents with you:
- Proof of death—either from a funeral home or death certificate;
- Your Social Security number, as well as the deceased worker’s;
- Your birth certificate;
- Your marriage certificate, if you are a widow or widower;
- Dependent children’s Social Security numbers, if available, and birth certificates;
- Deceased worker’s W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year; and
- The name of your bank and your account number so your benefits can be deposited directly into your account.
How To Apply For A Social Security Survivor Benefit
See the How To Apply For Survivors Benefits section of the social security website for additional details.