Even the thought of losing a spouse, parent, or child – or leaving the ones you love behind – can feel unbearable. But if you’re trying to overcome the worst, Social Security survivor benefits can at least relieve your financial pressures.
In previous blogs, we’ve made a distinction between how compensation or benefits systems differ between states, with topics such as How are Workers’ Compensation Benefits Calculated in Missouri? and How are Workers’ Compensation Benefits Calculated in Kansas? But Social Security survivor benefits are the same in all 50 states, as well as Guam, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the US Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Washington, D.C.
It should be noted, however, that twelve states levy a tax on Social Security benefits. These are Colorado, Connecticut, Kansas, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, Rhode Island, Vermont, Utah, and West Virginia. The rates of taxes and exemptions on Social Security benefits vary by state.
How do Social Security survivor benefits work?
Social Security survivor benefits are based on a system of credit. For each $1,640 of wages or self-employment income a worker earns in a single year, they receive one credit. A worker can earn up to four credits a year. So, if they earn at least $6,560 in a year, they’ll have earned the maximum number of credits.
No individual needs more than 40 credits for their family to receive Social Security survivor benefits upon their death. That means if a worker earns at least $6,560 each year for 10 years, their family qualifies for benefits.
The younger a worker is, the fewer credits they need. In some cases, their family can receive Social Security survivor benefits if the worker has received just six credits in the three years leading up to their death.
Who can receive Social Security survivor benefits?
Social Security survivor benefits are generally distributed to the spouse and children of an eligible worker. In certain circumstances, parents, grandchildren, stepchildren, and adopted children can also receive them.
Social Security survivor benefits for a spouse
A spouse can receive Social Security survivor benefits:
- If they’re age 60 or older
- If they’re age 50 or older and have a disability
- At any age, if they’re caring for the deceased’s child who’s under the age of 18
- At any age, if they’re caring for the deceased’s child who has a disability and is receiving child’s benefits
It’s important to note that Social Security survivor benefits for a spouse or divorced spouse could change if they remarry:
- If they remarry before age 60 (or age 50 if they have a disability), they can’t receive survivor benefits while married
- If they remarry after age 60 (or age 50 if they have a disability), they remain eligible for benefits on the deceased spouse’s Social Security record
Children’s Social Security survivor benefits
An unmarried child of the deceased can receive Social Security survivor benefits:
- If they’re under the age of 18
- If they’re under the age of 19 and are in full-time education as an elementary or secondary-school student
- If they’re age 18 or older with a disability that began before the age of 22
Social Security survivor benefits for dependent parents
A parent or parents can receive Social Security survivor benefits:
- If they’re age 62 or older and were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support
How much do survivors receive?
The amount a survivor receives in survivor benefits depends on how much the deceased worker paid into Social Security. The available amounts are as follows:
- A surviving spouse of full retirement age or older receives 100% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount
- A surviving spouse between the ages of 60 and full retirement age received 71.5-99% of the deceased worker’s basic amount
- A surviving spouse aged 50-59 who has a disability receives 71.5%
- A surviving spouse of any age who cared for a child under the age of 16 receives 75%
- A child under the age of 18 (or 19 if they’re a full-time elementary or secondary-school student) who has a disability receives 75%
- If there’s one surviving parent of the deceased worker who is age 62 or older, they receive 82.5%
- If there are two surviving parents of the deceased who are age 62 or older, they each receive 75%
The amount received in Social Security survivor benefits for divorced spouses is the same as a spouse who was married to the deceased worker at the time of their death.
Be aware that there’s a limit to how much family members can receive each month. This limit varies, but it’s typically 150-180% of the basic benefit rate. As of 2023, the basic benefit rate is $160,000.
If the total benefits payable to a family member exceeds this limit, their benefits will be reduced to the maximum available amount. However, benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse based on disability or age don’t count toward the maximum amount.
Special lump-sum death payment
In certain circumstances, a surviving spouse or dependent child could be eligible for a special lump-sum death payment of $255.
A surviving spouse could be eligible:
- If they were living in the same house as the worker at the time of the worker’s death
- If they were living apart and, during the month of the worker’s death, the spouse met one of the following conditions:
- They were already receiving benefits on the worker’s record
- They become eligible for benefits upon the worker’s death
If no eligible surviving spouse exists, the special lump-sum death payment can be paid to the worker’s child or children. This occurs if, during the month of the worker’s death, the child met one of the following conditions:
- They were already receiving benefits on the worker’s record
- They became eligible for benefits upon the worker’s death
When should I contact an attorney?
If you or your loved one qualifies for Social Security survivor benefits but your claim has been denied, it’s time to call an attorney. The dedicated trial lawyers at Phalen Law make every effort to win your case without a formal court hearing. But if one is required, we’re prepared to enter the courtroom and fight for your justice until the end.
Our team has been representing families across Kansas and Missouri for over 30 years. We’re intimately familiar with the laws surrounding survivor benefits, and know how to navigate all the typical obstacles standing between you and proper financial support. And throughout it all, we take great care to make sure you’re heard, informed, and kept at ease.
Contact us today for a free consultation to find out how we can help you secure the Social Security survivor benefits you deserve.