The Truth About Survivor Benefits and The Information You Need to Know Now

I know firsthand the pain of losing a parent at a young age. There is so much uncertainty that comes with this loss especially from a financial standpoint. Fortunately, my father had insurance and my mother planned well for the future, but I often find myself looking back on this time and wondering how my life would be now had my mother not prepared and my father’s insurance had not existed.

As it turns out, there are benefits available through the Social Security Administration if you find yourself in this difficult situation. These benefits are referred to as Survivor Benefits. Today, I will go into detail about this type of benefit and how you may be eligible to receive it.

First, in order for a family member to receive Survivor Benefits, the deceased individual must have paid into Social Security. The SSA website defines it a little more clearly: As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits toward your Social Security benefits. The number of years you need to work for your family to be eligible for Social Security survivor’s benefits depends on your age when you pass away. The younger you are, the fewer years you need to work. But no one needs more than 10 years of work to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.

Now that we have identified the first factor in being qualified, let’s get to the central part of this blog post; who is the beneficiary of these benefits? Though it may seem evident, the Social Security Administration has established regulations on potential beneficiaries in order to be eligible. Below, you will find a list of these potential beneficiaries.

  • A widow or widower  age 60 or older;
  • A widow or widower age 50 or older if they are disabled as outlined by Social Security regulations;
  • A widow or widower caring for a child under the age of 16 or disabled;
  • An unmarried child of the deceased
    •  who is under the age of 18 (or up to age 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school; or
    • Age 18 or older with a disability that began prior to the age of 22 as outlined by Social Security regulations
  • A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild or adopted child under certain circumstances;
  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support; and
  • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances.

Finally, the most asked question is how much the benefit amount will be. Let’s just say that no two snowflakes are alike. The amount you or a loved one could receive is determined by the amount of time the deceased worked and the amount he or she paid into Social Security. In other words, the longer an individual works and the more money paid into Social Security, the benefit amount has the potential to be significantly higher as well. But of course, this is only one factor. The Administration will also factor in the beneficiaries’ circumstance which is outlined in the next paragraph.

Social Security uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage survivors are entitled to. The percentage depends on the survivors’ ages and relationship to the worker. If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, your survivor’s benefit is based on that amount. Here are the most common situations:

  • A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally receives 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount;
  • A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives about 71-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount;
  • A widow or widower, any age, with a child younger than age 16, receives 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.
  • Children receive 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount.

Now, it is also important to remember that there are regulations on the total amount an entire family can receive and you can read more by visiting www.ssa.gov.

Wow, this can be quite confusing and I cannot imagine trying to piece this together after my father passed away, but fortunately, if you find yourself in this situation you do not have to go through it alone. Contact our office, and our knowledgeable, caring staff members will assist you in obtaining these benefits.

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Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law

Jan Dils, Attorneys at Law