Ben Kunes

Safe Money Retirement Group

Understanding Survivor Benefits in Social Security

Understanding the implications of Social Security benefits extends beyond individual planning; it's crucial to recognize how these benefits can support your family members, including your spouse, children, or parents, in the unfortunate event of your death. This support hinges on the deceased having earned enough work credits under the Social Security system.

The old saying, the Devil is in the Details is accurate when considering your SocialSecurity options. Please use caution, the information below is a simple overview of options that may be available to you.

Earning Credits for Survivor Benefits

A worker accumulates up to four credits annually to qualify for survivor benefits. For instance, in 2023, a worker earns one credit for every $1,640 earned through employment or self-employment, with a maximum of four credits obtainable at $6,560.

The required number of credits for survivors to be eligible varies based on the worker's age at the time of death. While the maximum needed is 40 credits (equivalent to 10 years of work), younger individuals require fewer credits. Sometimes, having six credits earned over the last three years before death can qualify survivors for benefits. However, this is a complex matter and warrants a discussion with a Social Security claims representative.

Reporting a Death and Applying for Benefits

In the event of a death, it's crucial to inform Social Security as promptly as possible. This can't be done online; it typically involves the funeral home, which can report the death using the deceased's Social Security number. For personal reporting and application for benefits, contact Social Security directly via their helpline.

Specifics of Death Benefits

Social Security may pay a one-time death benefit of $255 under certain conditions, primarily to a surviving spouse or, in their absence, to an eligible child.

Returning Overpaid Benefits

Should the deceased have been receiving Social Security benefits, any payments made for the month of death and thereafter must be returned. The method of returning these funds depends on how they were received (direct deposit or check).

Eligibility for Monthly Benefits

Monthly survivor benefits can be available to:

  • Spouses aged 60 or older, or 50 and older if disabled.
  • Divorced spouses under certain conditions.
  • Spouses of any age caring for a deceased worker's child under 16 or disabled.
  • Unmarried children under 18 (or 19 if still in school) or older children disabled before 22.
  • In some cases, stepchildren, grandchildren, or adoptive children.
  • Dependent parents aged 62 or older.

Special Conditions and Benefit Amounts

The survivor benefits are calculated from the deceased worker's earnings, and the amount varies depending on the survivor's age, status, and relationship to the deceased. Additionally, there are caps on the total benefits a family can receive. Factors such as income limits and remarriage may also influence eligibility for these benefits.

Surviving Divorced Spouses and Children

Divorced spouses and children have specific eligibility criteria, particularly concerning the length of the marriage and the child's relationship to the deceased worker.

Parental Benefits

Dependent parents over 62 may benefit if the deceased worker substantially supported them.

The Special Lump-Sum Death Payment

Apart from monthly benefits, a one-time payment of $225 may be available to the surviving spouse or child under certain conditions.

Integrating Survivor Benefits into Retirement Planning

Navigating the intricacies of Social Security, especially in the context of survivor benefits, is an integral part of comprehensive retirement planning. 

To fully incorporate these benefits into your retirement plan, it's advisable to consult with a trusted financial advisor. They can provide personalized guidance tailored to your unique situation, helping you understand how survivor benefits work in conjunction with other retirement savings and plans. A well-informed approach ensures that you and your loved ones are adequately prepared for the future, regardless of what it may hold.

For a detailed understanding of eligibility requirements and the specifics of Social Security survivor benefits, refer to the official Social Security Administration website at This resource offers a complete list of criteria and conditions, serving as an essential tool in your retirement planning journey.

  • Survivor Benefits: Social Security provides benefits for the family (spouse, children, parents) of a deceased worker based on their work credits.
  • Earning and Reporting: Credits are earned yearly towards these benefits. Deaths must be reported to Social Security, typically by a funeral home or directly via phone.
  • Benefit Types: Includes a one-time death payment, monthly benefits for eligible family members, and specific conditions for divorced spouses and dependent parents.
  • Benefit Conditions: Factors like age, disability, marital status, and other pensions may influence eligibility and the amount of benefits.

Disclaimer and Caution: Make sure you fully understand your options before making final decisions. The people at Social Security are knowledgeable, friendly, and available. Understand all of your options before taking action, the information above is deemed to be accurate because the system can change.

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Ben Kunes picture

Ben Kunes

Safe Money Retirement Group

6657 Winding Creek Way

St. Louis, Missouri 63129

(314) 740-6278

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