Social Security Survivor Benefits: Eligibility and Filing

If a disabled person who was receiving SSDI dies, the money that they were receiving can potentially go to his or her dependents.

Social Security survivor benefits are a type of federal benefit that operates much like a life insurance policy, with the policy benefits paid to families when the insured worker dies. Certain members of the deceased worker's family can apply for survivor benefits from the Social Security Administration (SSA) when the worker dies if the worker was entitled to Social Security disability insurance (SSDI) before dying. This includes eligible children, widows and widowers, divorced widows and widowers, and even dependent parents.

Eligibility of Deceased Worker’s Children

A dependent minor child whose parent died while receiving SSDI disability benefits (or whose parent had earned enough Social Security credits to be eligible for benefits before dying) is eligible for a survivor benefit. The child can receive what’s called a “child’s benefit” until turning 18, or if the child is a full-time secondary school student, until turning 19. The child can receive up to 75% of the parent’s monthly benefit, up to the family maximum. For more information, see our article on Social Security benfits for children of disabled parents. (For information on benefits for children with disabilities, see our article on SSDI and SSI benefits for children.)

Mother’s or Father’s Benefit

The surviving spouse of a deceased worker who is taking care of a child of the deceased worker is eligible for what’s known as the “mother’s benefit” or the “father’s benefit.” The mother or father must be taking care of a child under age 16 or disabled. (A disabled child can receive benefits for as long as he or she is disabled, the child was disabled since before age 22.) For information on calculating benefits, see our article on spousal disability benefits.

Surviving Spouse’s Benefits

A surviving spouse of a deceased disabled worker can get benefits after turning 60 years old (or 50 years old if the surviving spouse is disabled). This benefit is often called the widow or widower’s benefit. For the rules on eligibility, see our article on disability benefits for a surviving spouse.

Divorced Spouse’s Survivors Benefit

A divorced surviving spouse of a deceased disabled worker can get benefits if she is 6o years or older, 50 years or older and disabled, or caring for her deceased ex-husband’s minor or disabled child under the mother’s or father’s benefit.

Dependent Parent’s Benefit

Even an older parent of a deceased worker who was collecting SSDI (or entitled to Social Security retirement benefits at the time of death) can sometimes collect dependents benefits. To qualify, the parent must be:

  • 62 years old or older
  • divorced, widowed, or unmarried, and
  • financially dependent on the deceased worker for at least one-half of his or her support at the time of the child’s death.

The dependent parent must apply for this survivor benefit within two years of their disabled child’s death (unless he or she didn’t know of the two-year rule and had a good reason, such as language barrier or illness, for not knowing).

Amount of Survivors Benefits

A surviving spouse or minor child will receive a percentage of the monthly amount the deceased spouse would have received as a monthly disability benefit. Here are the general rules:

  • A minor or disabled child will receive 75% percent of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.
  • A surviving spouse who is caring for a minor or disabled child will receive 75% percent of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.
  • A surviving spouse who is between age 60 and full retirement age will receive 71-99% percent of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.
  • A surviving spouse who is 66 or 67 or older will receive the full amount of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.

The total of the surviving spouse’s benefit and the children’s benefits cannot be greater than the maximum family benefit, which is generally 150% to 180% of the deceased worker’s monthly SSDI benefit. (However, the benefits paid to a divorced spouse based on being over 60 or disabled are not counted toward the maximum family benefit and won’t affect a current spouse’s or child’s benefits, though benefits paid to a divorced spouse who is collecting a mother’s or father’s benefit will.)

One-Time Funeral Benefit

When a disabled worker entitled to Social Security benefits dies, a family member who was living with the deceased worker will receive a one-time death benefit worth several hundred dollars (currently $255).

How to Apply for Benefits

Call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at (800)772-1213 to set up an appointment to apply for the survivors’ benefit. Because survivors benefits are usually paid from the date of application, not from the date of death, apply for the survivors benefit as soon as possible.

You should not wait until you have all the required documentation to contact the office, but rather gather as much of the following information possible before your appointment:

  • A death certificate or documentation from a funeral home showing proof of death.
  • Your birth certificate.
  • Your Social Security number.
  • The Social Security number of the deceased worker.
  • A marriage certificate, if you are applying as a widow or widower.
  • A divorce decree if you are applying as a divorced widow or widower.
  • The Social Security numbers of any dependent children, as well as their birth certificates.
  • The most recent W-2 forms of the deceased worker.
  • Your bank account number and the name of the bank if you want to have funds directly deposited.

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