Who's Eligible for Social Security Survivor Benefits?


Who is eligible for Social Security survivor benefits? My ex-husband died last year at the age of 59, and I would like to find out if me, or my two kids - ages 13 and 16 - that we had together are eligible for anything.
If your ex-husband worked and paid Social Security taxes, both you and your kids may very well be eligible for survivors' benefits. However, you need to act quickly because benefits are generally only retroactive up to six months. Here's what you should know.
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 survivors' benefits, including spouses, former spouses and dependents. Here's a breakdown of who may be eligible.
Widows and divorced widow: Surviving spouses are eligible to collect a monthly survivor benefit as early as age 60 (or age 50 if disabled). Divorced surviving spouses are also eligible at this same age, if they were married at least 10 years and did not remarry before age 60 (or age 50 if disabled), unless the marriage ends.
How much you'll receive will depend on how much money your spouse or ex-spouse made over their lifetime (i.e., the earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes) and your age when you apply for survivors' benefits.
If you wait until your full retirement age, you'll receive 100% of your deceased spouse's (or ex-spouse's) benefit amount. Note that full retirement age is 66 for people born between 1945 and 1956 and gradually increases to age 67 for those born in 1962 or later. If you apply after age 60 but before your full retirement age, then your benefit will be somewhere between 71.5% and 99% of your deceased spouse's benefit.
To find out what percentage you can get when you reach your full retirement age visit ssa.gov/survivorplan/survivorchartred.htm.
There is, however, one exception. If a surviving spouse (or ex spouse) is caring for a child (or children) who is under age 16 or disabled, then the surviving spouse is eligible to receive 75% of the deceased spouse's benefit amount at any age.
Unmarried children: Surviving unmarried children under age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are still attending high school) are eligible to receive survivor benefits too. Benefits can also be paid to children at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Both biological and adoptive children are eligible, as well as children born out of wedlock. Dependent stepchildren and grandchildren may also qualify. Children's benefits are equal to 75% of the worker's benefit.
Dependent parents: Benefits can also be paid to dependent parents who are age 62 and older. For parents to qualify as dependents, they must have received at least one half of their financial support from the deceased worker.
However, it is important to be aware that Social Security has limits on how much a family can receive in monthly survivors' benefits. The amount is usually limited to 150% to 180% of the workers benefit.
You also should be aware that in addition to survivor benefits, surviving spouses and children are eligible to receive a one-time death benefit of $255.

Maximizing Strategies

Social Security also provides surviving spouses and ex-spouses some nice strategies that can help boost their benefits. For example, you could take a reduced survivor benefit at age 60 and then switch to your own retirement benefit a few years down the road if it offers a higher payment.
Or, if you're already receiving retirement benefits, you could switch to the survivors' benefit if it offers a higher payment. You cannot, however, receive both benefits.
You also need to know that if you collect a survivors' benefit while working and have not reached your full retirement age, then your benefits may be reduced depending on your earnings.
For more information, visit ssa.gov/survivorplan or call 800-772-1213.
Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living” book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization’s official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

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