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Monday October 3, 2022

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Work?

Who qualifies for Social Security survivor benefits? My ex-husband died last year and I would like to find out if my 17-year-old daughter and I are eligible for anything?

If your ex-husband worked and paid Social Security taxes and you and your daughter meet the eligibility requirements, you may be eligible for survivor benefits, but you may need to act quickly because benefits are generally retroactive only up to six months. Here is 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 survivor benefits including spouses, former spouses and dependents. Here is a breakdown of who qualifies.

Widow(er)s and divorced widow(er)s: Surviving spouses who were married at least nine months are eligible to collect a monthly survivor benefit as early as age 60 (50 if disabled). Divorced surviving spouses are also eligible at this same age, if you were married at least 10 years and did not remarry before age 60 (50 if disabled), unless the new marriage ends.

How much you will receive will depend on the amount of your spouse's earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes over his lifetime. It will also depend on the age at which you apply for survivor benefits.

If you wait until your full retirement age you will receive 100% of your deceased spouse's or ex-spouse's benefit amount. Full retirement age is 66 for people born from 1945 to 1954 and will gradually increase to age 67 for people born in 1960 or later. If you apply between age 60 and your full retirement age, your benefit will be somewhere between 71.5% and 99% of his benefit.

However, surviving spouses and ex-spouses who are caring for any children of the decedent under the age of 16 are eligible to receive 75% of the worker'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 for survivor benefits too. 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 75% of the worker's benefit. Benefits can also be paid to children at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled.

You should know that in addition to survivor benefits, a surviving spouse or child may also be eligible to receive a special lump-sum death payment of $255.

Dependent parents: Benefits can also be paid to dependent parents who are age 62 and older. For parents to qualify as dependents, the deceased worker would have had to provide at least one-half of the parent's financial support.

Be aware that Social Security has limits on how much a family can receive in monthly survivors' benefits. This is usually 150% to 180% of the worker's benefit.

Switching Strategies

Social Security also provides surviving spouses and ex-spouses some nice strategies that can help boost their benefits. For example, if you have worked you could take a reduced survivor benefit at age 60 and later switch to your own retirement benefit based on your earnings history – between ages 62 and 70 – if it offers a higher payment.

If you are already receiving retirement benefits on your work record, you could switch to taking survivors' benefits if the payout is higher. You cannot, however, receive both benefits.

If you collect a survivor benefit while working, and are under full retirement age, your benefits may be reduced depending on your earnings. See SSA.gov/pubs/EN-05-10069.pdf.

For more information on survivor benefits, visit SSA.gov/benefits/survivors.

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.

Published October 1, 2021
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