Social Security survivors benefits |

Social Security survivors benefits

Dear Savvy Senior:

Can you tell me about Social Security benefits if my husband dies? I have never held a full-time job outside the home since we married, and I’m worried about what will happen to me, if something should happen to him.

Worried Wanda

Dear Wanda:

It’s a good concern, but if something should happen to him, Social Security can probably help you! Many people don’t know that Social Security pays survivors insurance, also known as survivors benefits. In fact, today Social Security pays monthly survivors benefits to about 7 million Americans, almost 2 million of whom are children. How it works is when someone who has worked, and paid into Social Security dies, survivor benefits can be paid to certain family members. The number of work credits a person needs to be eligible depends on their age at the time of death. But, nobody needs more than 40 credits, which is 10 years of work.

Who are the Survivors?

Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:

— A widow or widower. They can receive full benefits at full retirement age (currently age 65), or reduced benefits as early as age 60. A disabled widow/widower may receive benefits as early as age 50.

— A widow or widower at any age if they take care of the deceased’s child under age 16 or disabled, who receives Social Security benefits.

— Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time. A child can receive benefits at any age if he or she was disabled before age 22 and remains disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits can also be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children.

— Dependent parents at 62 or older.

How Much Do Survivors Get?

The amount of survivors benefit will depend on the earnings of the person who died. So, the more Social Security taxes a person pays, the higher the benefits will be. The amount a widow or widower receives also depends on the age they are when they start receiving benefits. Here’s a percentage breakdown of what you could expect:

— Widow or widower full retirement age (currently age 65) or older, 100 percent.

— Widow or widower age 60 to 64, about 71 – 94 percent.

— Widow or widower at any age with a child under age 16, 75 percent.

— Children, 75 percent.

Switching Benefits

If a person is receiving widow or widower’s benefits, they can switch to their own retirement benefits as early as age 62 (assuming they are eligible and their retirement rate is higher than the widow/widower’s rate). In some cases, a widow/widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate at full retirement age. However, they will not be paid both benefits. Only the higher of the two.

Divorced Survivors Benefits

Divorced spouses can also receive benefits under the same circumstances as a widow or widower at age 60 (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted 10 years or more. But, you can’t receive benefits if you remarry before the age of 60 (50 if disabled) unless the marriage ends, which would make you eligible again. Also, remarriage after age 60 (50 if disabled) does not affect divorced survivors benefits.

Savvy Tips: Widow or widower’s benefits can also be affected by your work, depending on your income level, and if you receive a pension from a job where Social Security taxes were not withheld. For more information on Social Security survivors benefits get the free publication, “Survivors Benefits” (No. 05-10084) or visit To request a copy or for any other questions, call 1-800-772-1213.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

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