Summary: There are two benefits available to the surviving spouse of a Social Security participant. The first is a death benefit; the second is a Social Security Survivor Benefit. The participant’s other family members may be entitled to benefits, as well.
Social Security is a federal program designed to help financially support U.S. citizens in their retirement years or if they have been disabled or widowed. People pay into the program during their younger, working years and then they are able to access the finances at a designated age of retirement or if they become disabled. Not only does the Social Security participant receive the supplemental income, but if the participant passes away, his or her surviving spouse is also entitled to the Social Security benefits.
There are two benefits available to the surviving spouse of a Social Security participant. The first is a death benefit, which is a one-time payment of $255. The surviving spouse can receive this benefit if he or she was living with the participant at the time of the participant’s death, or, if the couple was living apart, the surviving spouse may claim this benefit as long as he or she meets certain criteria.
The second benefit a surviving spouse may be able to receive is the Social Security Survivor Benefit. This is a lifetime benefit calculated based on the participant’s benefit amount, the participant’s age at the time of their death, the age of the surviving spouse, and other factors. Here is a breakdown of how the U.S. government generally determines the Survivor Benefit:
- If the participant was collecting Social Security benefits at full retirement age at the time of their death, the surviving spouse will be eligible to receive benefits at full retirement age or reduced benefits as early as age 60. The survivor will be eligible to receive benefits at age 50 if the survivor is disabled and the disability started during the participant’s lifetime or within 7 years after the participant’s death.
- If the participant was collecting Social Security benefits early (prior to full retirement age), the above rules apply, but the surviving spouse will receive a decreased benefit amount. This is because collecting Social Security early reduces the benefit and the survivor cannot collect more than the participant would have collected.
- If the participant died before filing for Social Security benefits, the surviving spouse will be eligible to receive those benefits at either full retirement age, early retirement age at 60, or disability retirement age at 50. However, a person cannot collect the participant’s benefits and their own retirement benefits; the surviving spouse can elect to receive whichever one pays the most.
- If the surviving spouse is caring for the participant’s minor or disabled child, the survivor can collect benefits at any age. To qualify, the child must be 16 years or younger, or be disabled and already collecting benefits based on the participant.
- If the surviving spouse is disabled, he or she may begin collecting Social Security Survivor Benefits at 50-years-old, rather than the designated retirement age of 62-years-old.
- If the participant and survivor are divorced, the survivor may still receive Survivor Benefits, as long as the couple was married more than 10 years and the survivor did not remarry before age 60.
- If the surviving spouse remarries before turning 60-years-old, he or she cannot collect the participant’s (first spouse’s) Social Security benefits. However, if the surviving spouse is widowed or divorces again, he or she is once again entitled to those Survivor Benefits.
- If the participant had two qualifying spouses, (two marriages lasting more than 10 years each, and the survivors have not remarried) both survivors can collect benefits based on the same participant. There is no effect on the benefit amount because of this.
In addition to surviving spouses, a participant’s other family members may be entitled to their Social Security benefits, as well. Those family members include unmarried children, step-children, grandchildren, step-grandchildren, adopted children, or parents (62 years or older). However, these family members would have to meet certain criteria and the amount they may receive is dependent on a number of factors.
For more information about Social Security Survivor Benefits, or to set up an estate planning or probate consultation, contact Siedentopf Law at (404) 736-6066 or visit our website EstateLawAtlanta.com.
© Sarah Siedentopf and Siedentopf Law, 2018. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this site’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Siedentopf Law and EstateLawAtlanta.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
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