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Life Insurance: Providing Security for Your Survivors

Social Security Survivor Benefits

Social Security Survivor Benefits [898] (FINRA)

Will Social Security pay survivor's benefits to your family when you die? Assuming you've earned enough credits (approximately ten years of work), your family members may be eligible for benefits on your Social Security record. Those family members include:

  • a surviving spouse who is age 60 or older;
  • a surviving spouse who is age 50 or older and disabled;
  • a surviving spouse who is any age as long as he or she is caring for a child under age 16, or a disabled child who is receiving Social Security benefits;
  • unmarried children who are under age 18 or under age 19 if still in high school;
  • unmarried children age 18 or older and who are severely disabled, as long as the disability started before age 22, and;
  • your parents, if you provide for more than half of their financial support.

Your surviving spouse and child(ren) are each entitled to a benefit based on their age, with exceptions in case of disability. Once your youngest child reaches age 16 (except if he or she is disabled), your surviving spouse will no longer be eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits until he or she reaches age 60. This is commonly known as the 'blackout period.' In addition, all benefits to your children stop when they finish high school or age 19, whichever comes first.

Some Commonly Asked Questions on Social Security Survivor Benefits

1. Does Social Security still pay a death benefit?

Yes. After your death, your surviving spouse or minor children will receive a very small, one-time, lump-sum payment.

2. What happens if my spouse goes back to work?

Depending on your spouse's earnings, he or she could forfeit part or all of his or her survivor benefit. There is an earnings limitation—the amount you can earn from wages and salary—until you reach full retirement age. Other types of income—including pensions, 401(k) plan and IRA withdrawals, severance payments, dividends and interest, and workers compensation—are not included in the Earnings Limitation. The limitations change from year to year and are based on increases in the average earnings of all employees.

3. What if I am divorced? Will my ex-spouse be entitled to survivor benefits and will it affect the amount my surviving spouse or children receive?

If your ex-spouse was married to you for at least ten years, he or she is entitled to a benefit as long as he or she is:

  • at least 60 years old (age 50 if disabled);
  • any age and taking care of your child who is eligible for benefits on your Social Security record;
  • not receiving an equal or higher Social Security benefit based on their own record, and;
  • not currently married. Exception: If your ex-spouse remarries after age 60 (age 50 if disabled), he or she will be eligible based on your record unless eligible for a higher benefit as a dependent of the new spouse.

The benefits your ex-spouse receives will not reduce the benefits payable to your surviving spouse and/or children.

4. Are there cost-of-living increases just like Social Security retirement benefits?

Yes. For more information on Social Security survivor benefits, contact your local Social Security office or visit the Social Security website at

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