Social Security Death Benefits

Last month, a friend lost her husband in an accident on his way to work. Now she has to raise their little boys, ages three and six, by herself. I’m not sure what her financial situation is like now, but I’ve spent the last month making sure that my husband and I have adequately provided for our family in the event of the unthinkable.

I figured out that we have adequate life insurance. You can read my posts at Chief Family Officer on figuring out how much life insurance you need and whether you might need a whole life policy. I also shared 10 tips for reducing your life insurance costs.

For the first time, I researched Social Security death benefits and learned some interesting things:

  • Much of what you need to know is on your annual statement. Each year before your birthday (after you turn 25), the Social Security Administration sends out a statement summarizing your earnings and projecting your benefits. The SSA web site has a sample statement. You can see that it shows whether you qualify for death benefits and the amount your survivors would receive if you died this year (see page 2).
  • The amount of your survivors’ benefits is determined by your lifetime earnings. Again, this is reflected on your annual statement. The more you’ve earned, the greater the benefits.
  • A surviving spouse receives full death benefits only upon reaching age 65 or age 67, depending upon when he or she was born. Lesser benefits may be available at an earlier age.
  • A exception to the above rule is that a younger surviving spouse can receive death benefits if he or she is caring for a child aged 16 or younger who is entitled to a child’s benefit. The number of years you must work before you are eligible for death benefits depends upon your age, but even if you have not qualified, benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for them if you worked for one and one-half years in the three years before your death.
  • Unmarried children 18 and under are eligible for their own survivors’ benefits. If they’re still in high school, they can receive benefits up to the age of 19. There are also provisions for disabled children and other descendants to receive benefits.
  • Your surviving spouse and minor children may be eligible for a one-time death benefit of $255. I’ve always seen this listed on my annual statement and never quite known what to make of it. It’s such a small amount, I wonder why they even bother.
  • If your surviving spouse works, his or her benefits may be reduced. But the good news is, your spouse’s work won’t affect the benefits your children receive.

For more information, visit the Widows, Widowers, and Other Survivors section of the SSA web site.

13 thoughts on “Social Security Death Benefits”

  1. My sister died in 2005 at age 38. At that time, she left behind a husband and two boys, ages 5 and 10. In what form, and in whose name, are the boys receiving my sister’s SS death benefits? Does my brother-in-law have direct access to that money, or does it go into some kind of trust for the boys to have when they come of age?

  2. @Esther – I’m no expert, but I would guess the money goes to the boys’ guardian, who presumably would be her husband. I doubt it would go into a trust, since the money is intended for current living expenses. The best way to know for sure would be to ask your brother-in-law, or, if you’re not comfortable doing that, the Social Security Administration. They probably won’t answer personal questions, but they should be able to answer general questions like who the checks are made out to. You might even be able to find the answer on their web site (just click on the link in the post).

  3. My Mom is 80 divorced and recieves a small portion of Dad’s SS Benefits ( he died 21 yrs ago) He remarried and the second wife recently died . Can My Mother get an increase in monies ( ie. full survivors benefits) now that the second wife has passed?

  4. My mother died 8/26/08. Is the sept. payment from social security to be returned?

    Thank you

  5. Hello
    My father died in 2005, he was 67. My mother is currently 57 years old. Is she eligible to receive his pension since she was a non-working spouse?
    Thank you

  6. My husband died in 2002. My four children and I have been receiving his SS. The childrens bennifits have paid all of them until they finished high school.
    My youngest son will be 16 in Sept. Does that mean in Sept. I will no longer recive the SS?
    I am 100% handicapped and I will be 49 this year.

  7. I have been married 2 times and both husbands are deseased.Iwant to know if both husbands remarried,but both wifes have remarried. My 2nd hasband i was working and had to take a leave from work to take care of him and borrowed money from my work to keep from losin our home and our car.I also had a son that my x husband took responsibility for due to the fact i didnt recieve child support and he [my x husband] was told he could claim him as his child so am i entitled to any of his ss benefits.Ihave never remarried.If you can give me any advise i would appreciate it. thank you very much, yours truely judy knight

  8. I was born on Jan. 20th 1938. I began drawing social security at age 65 and two months (that was my full benifit age). My wife was born on June 2nd. 1946. If my wife begins drawing social security at age 63 and begins drawing from her work record can she get survivors benifits when she turns 66 (her full retirement age) at the exact rate that I am getting when she recieves servivors benifits after I am dead. In other words if I was getting $1,800 a month would she also get $1,800 a month under survivors benifits.

  9. question: Are both parties eligible for the $255.00 death benefit or does it just go to whoever dies first the husband or wife? example:
    If the husband dies & you get the death benefit
    then the wife dies years later does she also get
    the death benefit from social security? Also if
    a person get ss & they die do you return their last check or do they keep it since when you start getting ss they are a month behind?

  10. My son’s father was killed 13 years ago, 5 days shy of his 21st birthday. S.S. denied the application because he didn’t have enough credit hours. He did work, just not enough. I’ve come across several people with similar instances and their children are getting S.S., but they are too afraid to give their personal info in fear of their own S.S. changing. Is there another program or something? Many thanks for taking the time to review and respond. Krisha Caudle

  11. My stepfather died in 2004. My mother is 85 years of age and has not remarried. Is she entitled to my stepfather’s social security benefit?

  12. if my husband dies and i recieve his social security will that go towards my student loans that are not yet paid off at the time—-also any estate money


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