Questions you’re asking: What do I need to know about Social Security survivor benefits?

A grandparent pulls a young child in a wagon across the street

Social Security survivor benefits may offer financial support when you lose your spouse. Here’s what you need to know.

If your spouse, parent, or child has passed away, you could be eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits. Diane Porter, assistant vice president of the Advice and Planning Center of Excellence at Wells Fargo Wealth and Investment Management, shares what you should keep in mind about Social Security survivor benefits.

Know the requirements 

Some family members may be able to receive monthly survivor benefits. Examples include:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 or older if disabled)
  • A widow or widower caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving child benefits
  • An unmarried child younger than age 18, an unmarried child younger than age 19 and a full-time student working toward a high school diploma, or a disabled child age 18 or older
  • A parent older than age 62 dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support

In all of these instances, to access the full benefit, your income outside of the benefit must be less than $19,560 per year (as of 2022). Otherwise, for every $2 you earn over that, your benefits will be reduced by $1.

Depending on your age and the amount of your Social Security benefit, you will want to look at whether the survivor benefit or your own Social Security payment will offer you a larger payout.

Understand the details

If your ex-spouse passes away: If you did not remarry before age 60, you can still claim survivor benefits. This is true even if your ex-spouse had remarried.

If your child is under 18: Both you and your child can receive benefits until your child turns 16 years old. At that point, your child’s benefits will continue until they turn 18 or 19, depending on when they graduate high school. The cash benefits received for a child must be used specifically for their care; expenses such as education expenses, clothing, and food all qualify. Document how you’re using your child’s cash benefits because the Social Security Administration may require proof.

If you’re eligible for your own Social Security benefit payments: If you begin taking your survivor benefit at age 60, you will receive approximately 71.5% of what your deceased spouse would have gotten at full retirement age or what they were receiving when they passed. Depending on your age and the amount of your Social Security benefit, you will want to look at whether the survivor benefit or your own Social Security payment will offer you a larger payout. It’s possible, for instance, for you to take your survivor benefit at the 71.5% until you reach full retirement age and then switch to your benefit at 100%.