Often called "survivor benefits," social security death benefits are inconsequential to people of any financial means. The Social Security Death Benefit provides assistance to eligible survivors of a beneficiary by way of a “lump sum Social Security Death Benefit.”
The social security death benefit is $255 payable to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the beneficiary at the time of death (about enough to buy a nice bouquet of flowers for the casket). In the absence of a surviving spouse, minor children can also be entitled to monthly Social Security Death Benefit.
More important is the other type of death benefit that can supply a continuing income to a spouse or minor children.
Your widow or widower may be able to receive full social security death benefits at age 65 if born before January 1, 1940. (The age to receive full benefits is gradually increasing to age 67 for widows and widowers born January 2, 1940, or later.) Reduced widow or widower benefits can be received as early as age 60. If your surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.
- Your widow or widower can receive benefits at any age if she or he takes care of your child who is entitled to a child’s benefit and is age 16 or younger or who is disabled.
- Your unmarried children who are under age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time) also can receive social security death benefits. Your children can get benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits also can be paid to your stepchildren, grandchildren, stepgrandchildren or adopted children.
- Your dependent parents can receive social security death benefits if they are age 62 or older. (For your parents to qualify as dependents, you would have had to provide at least one-half of their support.)
Social Security Death Benefits for surviving divorced spouses
If you have been divorced, your former wife or husband who is age 60 or older (50-59 if disabled) can get social security death benefits if your marriage lasted at least 10 years. Your former spouse, however, does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for his/her child who is under age 16 or who is disabled and also entitled based on your work. The child must be your former spouse’s natural or legally adopted child.
Social Security Death Benefits paid to you as a surviving divorced spouse who meets the age or disability requirement as a widow or widower won’t affect the benefit rates for other survivors getting benefits on the worker’s record. However, if you are the surviving divorced mother or father who has the worker’s child under age 16 or disabled in your care, your benefit will affect the amount of the benefits of others on the worker’s record.
The amount your family can get from Social Security depends on your average lifetime earnings. That means the more you have earned, the more their benefits will be. You should check your Social Security Statement, which is sent each year to every worker age 25 or older. The Statement gives an estimate of social security death benefits and survivors benefits that could be paid.
The application for this type of social security benefit should be done immediately. This is because there are times that the benefits are paid starting the date of application and not prior to the date of the employee’s death.
To file for social security death benefits, the following documents will be needed:
- Funeral or death certificate
- The claimant’s social security number as well as the deceased’s social security number
- The claimants birth certificate
- Marriage contract
- Divorce papers
- The deceased ’s most recent federal self-employment tax return or W-2 forms
- The bank account number where the money will be deposited
Knowing how to manage your finances, even your social security decisions, is a challenge. You can find other related information in our blog Retirement Income.
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