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Social Security Death Benefits

Updated on July 8, 2010

Social Security Death Benefits -- also called Survivor’s Benefits -- are benefits payable to certain qualifying relatives of deceased individuals. The Social Security Administration extends these benefits to the surviving spouses and children of decedents who supported the family financially during their lifetime. If your spouse or parent was the sole provider for your family and recently passed away, you may be entitled to claim Social Security Death Benefits for you and the rest of your family.

Who Can Receive Death Benefits?

Social Security Death Benefits are generally payable to the immediate family of the decedent. This includes the decedent’s:

  • Spouse
  • Biological children
  • Adopted children
  • Step-children
  • Dependent parents
  • Grandchildren

For children to qualify, they must be under the age of 19, unmarried and actively enrolled in high school. Children who are physically or mentally disabled may also qualify for Social Security Death Benefits beyond the age of 19; eligibility in for these children is determined on a case-by-case basis by the Social Security Administration.

If you are a widow(er) and your late spouse left behind a minor child that are not biologically or legally yours, and you never adopted the child, you can also claim benefits if you are currently caring for the child on a full-time basis.

What if I Divorced My Spouse Prior to His/Her Death?

If you and your late spouse divorced prior to your spouse’s passing, you may still be entitled to Social Security Death Benefits if:

  • Your late spouse was 60 years of age or older; or
  • Your late spouse was between the ages of 50 and 59, and disabled; and
  • Your marriage lasted at least 10 years

If you and your spouse were separated, filing for divorce or waiting for your divorce to be finalized, you are considered married for all intents and purposes. You qualify for Social Security Death Benefits the same as you would if you and your spouse were still together.

When Can I Receive Death Benefits?

You are eligible for Social Security Death Benefits immediately upon the passing of the decedent, as long as you meet all of the other eligibility requirements. You will need the original death certificate or a certified copy to provide to the SSA. You will also need your personal information; the deceased’s personal information (including Social Security number) and information for any other family members for whom you wish to apply for Social Security Death Benefits. You should complete the application for Death Benefits as soon as possible to reduce the lapse between the decedent’s passing and your first check.

How Do I Apply for Death Benefits?

The Social Security Administration accepts applications for Social Security Death Benefits online. You can visit the SSA’s website to complete and submit your application. You can also complete the application over the telephone, via mail or in person at your local Social Security field office if you prefer not to do so online.

How Much Will I Receive?

How much you will receive in Social Security Death Benefits directly depends on various factors, including:

  • How much the decedent earned in his or her lifetime
  • How much the decedent contributed in Social Security taxes
  • How much the decedent contributed to your financial support
  • The decedent’s age and work history
  • Your age and work history

For a better idea of how much you can receive, contact the SSA’s toll-free helpline at (800) 772-1213 and speak with a representative. You can also visit the Social Security Administration’s Death Benefits calculator online to estimate how much you could receive.


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