Who is entitled to Social Security survivors benefits?

1 min readLast updated November 10, 2023by Rachel Carey

Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to various family members should you die providing you’d worked long enough to be eligible. So how does this scheme work, and who exactly is entitled?

Social Security survivor benefits are paid to widows, widowers, and dependents of eligible workers. They’re not intended as a substitute for savings or life insurance cover, but they can provide some much-needed financial security at a very difficult time.

What are Social Security survivors benefits? 

Social Security survivors benefits are paid to eligible family members of workers who have sadly died. They can include your spouse, children or a parent, and the benefits are paid monthly, like most Social Security and disability benefits.  

Survivor benefits are designed to cover daily living expenses – the kind of things that the deceased salary, for example, housing costs, groceries and utilities would have normally covered. 

Essentially, Social Security survivors benefits reduce the financial stress created by losing a family’s main earner. While it may not replace a principal income, it helps ease the burden.  

How do Social Security survivors benefits work? 

When you’re working and paying Social Security through payroll deductions, some of what you pay helps to fund survivor benefits. Should you pass away, your eligible survivors could then file for the benefits through the Social Security Administration. The amount your family and dependents would receive depends on how much you’ve earned through your working life. The more Social Security you’ve paid over a lifetime, the more benefits you might receive. 

The benefit is worked out as a percentage of what you would have received in Social Security, based on your retirement age, plus the age and status of the recipient. 

Who qualifies for Social Security survivors benefits?  

Here’s a rundown of who could be eligible and what they might receive in benefits. 

  • Children under 18 or 19, if they’re still in school, can receive a 75 percent survivors benefit. 

  • Children with a disability can also receive a 75 percent benefit. 

  • A dependent parent aged 62 or older could receive 82.5 percent of your benefit should you die. 

  • Two surviving parents could each receive 75 percent of the regular benefit. 

  • A widow or widower of any age caring for a child aged under 16 is eligible to receive 75 percent of the regular benefits. 

  • Widows or widowers with a disability aged between 50 and 59 can receive 71.5 percent. 

  • A widow or widower aged 60 to full retirement can receive between 71.5 percent and 99 percent of their spouse’s Social Security benefit. 

  • When widows and widowers reach full retirement age, they can receive 100 percent of the benefits. 

  • Divorced survivors can also receive benefits; the percentages would be the same as those mentioned above for widows and widowers. 

How much are Social Security survivors benefits

Everyone’s circumstances are different.  

The exact amount of benefits is affected by who is claiming benefits, the deceased’s work history, whether recipients are still working and your family’s maximum benefit limit. Here are some figures for different categories of eligible people.

Type of BeneficiaryAverage monthly benefit amount
Retirement-aged widow or widower $1,845
Widow or widower with a child $1,372
Disabled widow or widower $1,033
Child of a deceased worker $1,207
Parent of a deceased worker $1,677

These average monthly amounts were calculated by taking the average for each type of spouse or dependent from December 2022, then adding the 2023 cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which is 8.7 percent.  

Surviving spouses and children can also qualify for a special lump-sum payment of $255. A  

How do you apply for survivors benefits? 

You can apply for survivors benefits at a local security office or by phone.  

The Social Security Administration recommends that you report the death of the qualifying worker as soon as you can. There is currently no way of applying for survivor benefits online, so you’ll need to mail all the important documents when you apply. These documents differ depending on your relationship with the deceased.  

Always include your social security number with your mailed documents to match them with the right application. 

The bottom line 

Social Security survivors benefits can make up an important part of your wider financial planning. If you should unexpectedly die, leave your family behind, or your spouse passes away, this support can help to make a difficult and upsetting time easier to cope with. These benefits are not designed to replace your savings and retirement plans or life insurance policy; they’re just part of the picture when it comes to supporting your loved ones. 

Always remember that speaking with a financial advisor about your finances, individual wishes and long-term aims makes good sense. They can help you create a plan that works for everyone involved. 

Find a trusted financial advisor with Unbiased.

Senior Content Writer

Rachel Carey

Rachel is a Senior Content Writer at Unbiased. She has nearly a decade of experience writing and producing content across a range of different sectors.