What are Social Security Survivors Benefits?

Social Security Survivors benefits are paid to widows, children, parents and ex-spouses of covered workers.

The Social Security program actually consists of three benefit programs that make payments for various reasons. They are:

  1. Retirement benefits,
  2. Disability benefits,
  3. Survivors benefits.

This post covers number 3, Survivors benefits. These are not the same as the benefits commonly referred to as spousal benefits.


mother and child

If a worker, who is covered by Social Security, dies and leaves family members behind, they are the “survivors” and are covered under the Survivors benefits program. Social Security will use the deceased worker’s record to calculate payments for his / her family.

There are four eligible parties that may receive payments after the worker’s death. They are the widow (or widower if the wife dies first), children, parent, and ex-spouse. Each has detailed rules for eligibility.

A widow(er) will get benefit payments if:

  • They are age 60+, or
  • Age 50+ and disabled, or
  • Any age and caring for a worker’s child under 16 or disabled and entitled to benefits on worker’s record.

A child will get benefit payments if:

  • They are under age 18, or
  • Between 18 and 19 and still in secondary school, or
  • Over age 18 and severely disabled before age 22.

A parent will get benefit payments if:

  • They are dependent on the deceased worker for greater than 50% of their support

An ex-spouse will get benefit payments if:

  • They fit one of the three requirements for widow(er) above and were married to covered worker for 10 or more years, and
  • They are not entitled to a larger benefit based on their own record, and
  • Not currently married unless marriage was after they turned 60 or 50 and are disabled.

Another aspect of Survivors benefits that comes into the payment amount is that the “full retirement age” (FRA) for Survivors benefits is different from the full retirement age for retirement benefits.


Birth Year Survivors FRA Retirement FRA
1937 or earlier 65 65
1938 65 65 and 2 months
1939 65 65 and 4 months
1940 65 and 2 months 65 and 6 months
1941 65 and 4 months 65 and 8 months
1942 65 and 6 months 65 and 10 months
1943 65 and 8 months 66
1944 65 and 10 months 66
1945-54 66 66
1955 66 66 and 2 months
1956 66 66 and 4 months
1957 66 and 2 months 66 and 6 months
1958 66 and 4 months 66 and 8 months
1959 66 and 6 months 66 and 10 months
1960 66 and 8 months 67
1961 66 and 10 months 67
1962 or later 67 67

This chart matters because a widow(er) or ex-spouse can start claiming benefits as early as age 60, but the benefit will be reduced. For the full benefit payment, the survivor must wait until their FRA in the center column above. For some people it is several months earlier than the full retirement age for Retirement benefits and they may wait unnecessarily long to receive their benefits if they are unaware of this anomaly in the Social Security benefits.


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What are Social Security Survivors Benefits?
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