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How Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Work?

social security survivors benefits

The death of a loved one is traumatizing for numerous reasons. Those left behind must mourn the loss of emotional support, their loved one’s company, and the dreams they shared. On top of that, the death of a loved one often puts enormous financial stress on those who survive. If a widow, widower, child, or parent was counting on the decedent for help with bills and other obligations, their death may leave them in a difficult position.

That’s why it’s important to look into Social Security survivor benefits after a loved one dies. Learn more and start the application process by calling Walton Law at 251-455-5819.

Determining Credit Requirements

As is the case when you apply for disability benefits, you must meet certain credit requirements before receiving survivor benefits. The decedent must have earned a minimum amount of credit for surviving family members to draw upon their benefits after their death. The minimum number of credits needed is 40.

Since an individual can earn up to four work credits per year, that comes out to 10 years of work. The amount of money you must earn for each credit changes from year to year; in 2021, that amount was $1,470.

Not everyone needs 40 credits for surviving family members to receive survivor benefits, however. The younger an individual is at the time of their death, the fewer credits they must have accumulated for their widow or children to receive survivor benefits.

Even if the decedent does not have enough credits, their surviving family members may still be able to receive benefits. If a decedent has worked 1.5 years in the three years prior to their death, their widow and children may receive payments.

Who Receives Benefits?

A variety of family members may be eligible to receive survivor benefits after the death of a loved one. In most cases, the decedent’s spouse receives benefits. They typically get benefits if they are 60 or older, or if they are at least 50 and disabled. Younger widows and widowers may also receive benefits if they are caring for the decedent’s child or children.

Unmarried children of the decedent may also be able to receive payments. This is the case if they are younger than 18 or if they are older than 18 and have a disability that started before they turned 22. Certain circumstances allow other family members to receive payments, including stepchildren, grandchildren, or parents who relied on the decedent for financial support.

How Much Survivors Receive

The amount a surviving family member receives is dependent on the amount the deceased paid into Social Security. As a general rule, a higher income means higher monthly payments.

A widow or widower who is at full retirement age or older receives 100% of the decedent’s monthly payments, which drops to 71.5% to 99% if the widow/er is at least 60 but not yet at full retirement age. A disabled widow/er who is at least 50 receives 71.5% of the deceased’s payments.

Those caring for children below the age of 16 receive 75%, as do minor children of the deceased. Surviving parents who relied on the deceased for financial support receive between 75% and 82.5%. Additionally, survivors may qualify for a one-time lump sum payment of $255.

Reporting a Death and Applying

It’s important to report a loved one’s death to the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. If the decedent was receiving monthly benefits, any benefits paid out after their death will need to be paid back to the SSA. Reporting their death in a timely manner helps avoid unnecessary payments.

You cannot apply for survivor benefits online. This process must be done in person or over the phone. Required documents vary, depending on whether you are applying for widow/er’s benefits, children’s benefits, surviving parent’s benefits, or a lump sum payment. Applying without the necessary documentation can lead to unnecessary delays, so it’s recommended that you discuss your options and next steps with an attorney.

Get Started with Walton Law

If your spouse or parent has passed away, you may be entitled to Social Security survivor benefits. To get started on this process, call Walton Law at 251-455-5819 or get in touch with our team online.

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