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Survivor Benefits

Extended Support

The loss of a family member can be an emotionally stressful event. If the Deceased was also a source of income for the family, the loss can be financially devastating as well. Many times, relief for the surviving family may be available through benefits programs from a variety of sources. Social Security, Veteran’s Affairs, the military, workers’ compensation, life insurance and pension policies are a few of the many programs that can provide financial support to the surviving family. The benefit summary that follows is designed to educate survivors about the possible benefits which may be applicable.  It is not comprehensive enough to determine exactly which benefits apply, so one can then seek the assistance of the appropriate agency to determine their eligibility.

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More information about survivor benefits:

Social Security Benefits

The United States’ Social Security Administration (SSA) provides retirement benefits for those who have worked and paid Social Security taxes for at least 10 years. During the worker’s career, social security taxes are deducted from their paychecks.

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Qualifying for Social Security Survivor Benefits

Survivors may be eligible to collect Social Security (SS) benefits if the Deceased worked and paid Social Security taxes. The Social Security Administration stipulates that “up to 10 years of work is needed to be eligible for benefits, depending on the person’s age at the time of death.” For example, if you are married and both you and your spouse worked for at least 10 years, then you both have benefits that can be collected at retirement or upon the death of a spouse. The earliest you can collect SS survivor benefits is age 60. At that age, you can collect a widow/widower benefit, but it will be reduced because you are collecting before full retirement age. Retirement age (when you’re eligible for full retirement benefits) varies by year of birth, but you can retire anytime between age 62 and full retirement age. You can choose between collecting your benefit or your widow/widower benefit, but not both. Only one SS benefit may be collected at one time.  Full retirement age can be determined by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or by visiting www.ssa.gov.

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Who is Eligible?

The Social Security Administration lists the eligibility requirements for social security benefits as follows:

  • A widow or widower (full benefits at full retirement age or reduced benefits as early as age 60)
  • A disabled widow or widower (as early as age 50)
  • A widow or widower at any age if he or she is the caretaker of the deceased's child (who is under age 16; or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits)
  • Unmarried children under 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time);
  • Under certain circumstances, benefits can also be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children
  • Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled
  • Dependent parents age 62 or older

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A Common Misconception:

Contrary to conventional wisdom, you can work and still receive Social Security benefits. The benefits may be reduced depending upon your age and status in the Deceased’s life e.g., ex-spouses are eligible for benefits if they meet certain criteria. Of course, if you are collecting Social Security benefits while working, and then retire, you can switch to earning your own benefits as early as age 62 if eligible.

The Bottom Line

To estimate how much compensation you are eligible to receive, call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 or use one of their online calculators (ssa.gov) to estimate your benefits based on past earnings. Please Note: The calculators do not actually link to your personal Social Security record and are only estimates. The numbers assume you’re eligible to receive benefits and your actual benefit can easily be affected by other factors in your life.

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How to Find out More Information about Survivor Benefits

  • The United States Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA): 1-800-827-1000 www.va.gov
  • Office of Workers’ Compensation Programs (OWP): 1-866-4-USA-DOL  www.dol.gov
  • Defense Finance and Accounting Service (DFAS): 1-800-321-1080 www.dfas.mil
  • Bureau of Justice Assistance (BJA): 1-800-321-1080  www.ojp.usdoj.gov/BJA/
  • Social Security Administration: 1-800-772-1213 www.ssa.gov

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