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Social Security Survivor Benefits - What Happens After You Die?
As you plan for the future, you'll want to think about what your family would need if you should die now. Social Security can help your family if you have earned enough Social Security credits through your work.
If you die before certain members of your family, some of your survivors may be eligible for benefits. These include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children and dependent parents.
How do you earn Social Security survivors benefits?
You can earn up to four credits each year. In 2009, for example, you earn one credit for each $1,130 of wages or self-employment income. When you have earned $4,520, you have earned your four credits for the year.
The number of credits needed to provide benefits for your survivors depends on your age when you die. The younger a person is, the fewer credits he or she must have for family members to receive survivors benefits. But no one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.
Benefits can be paid to your children and your spouse who is caring for the children even if you don't have the required number of credits. They can get benefits if you have credit for one and one-half years of work (6 credits) in the three years just before your death.
Survivors benefits for your widow or widower: There are about 5 million widows and widowers receiving monthly Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse's earnings record.
Your widow or widower can receive:
-- reduced benefits as early as age 60 or full benefits at full retirement age or older
-- benefits as early as age 50 if he or she is disabled
If your widow or widower remarries after age 60 (age 50 if disabled), he or she will still be eligible for benefits on your record.
Your widow or widower who has not remarried can receive survivors benefits at any age if she or he takes care of your child who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on your record.
If your widow or widower will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government or foreign work, his or her Social Security benefit on your record may be affected.
Benefits for surviving divorced spouse: If you have a surviving divorced spouse, he or she could get benefits just the same as a widow or widower provided that your marriage lasted 10 years or more.
Benefits paid to a surviving divorced spouse who meets the age or disability requirement as a widow or widower won't affect the benefit amounts your other survivors will receive based on your earnings record.
If your former spouse is caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled who gets benefits on your record, he or she will not have to meet the length-of-marriage rule. (The child must be your natural or legally adopted child.) However, if he or she qualifies for benefits as a surviving divorced mother or father who is caring for your child, his or her benefits may affect the amount of benefits your other survivors will receive based on your earnings record.
If your surviving divorced spouse will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government or foreign work, his or her Social Security benefit on your record may be affected.
Survivors benefits for your children: Your unmarried children who are under 18 (up to age 19 if attending elementary or secondary school full time) can be eligible to receive Social Security benefits when you die.
Your child can get benefits at any age if he or she was disabled before age 22 and remains disabled.
Besides your natural children, your stepchildren, grandchildren, stepgrandchildren or adopted children may receive benefits under certain circumstances.
How much will your survivors receive?
How much your family would receive in benefits depends on your average lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings were, the higher their benefits would be. Social Security calculates a basic amount as if you had reached full retirement age at the time you die.
Is there a maximum Social Security benefit that your family can receive?
There is a limit to the amount that your family members can receive each month. The limit varies, but is generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of your basic benefit rate.
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