If someone in your family dies after working for at least 10 years, you may be entitled to receive his or her federal social security benefits. Known as survivors benefits, these payments may be received by several types of relatives.
You may be eligible for social security survivors benefits if you had one of the following relationships with the deceased social security beneficiary:
Spouse. You may be eligible for full benefits at your qualifying retirement age, which varies based on your birth date. You can receive reduced benefits at age 60.
Disabled spouse. You may be able to receive full benefits as early as age 50.
Divorced spouse. If your marriage lasted 10 years or longer and you are over age 60, you can receive widow/widower benefits. You cannot receive survivors benefits if you remarry before age 60 unless the second marriage ends.
Child. Unmarried children under age 18 qualify for survivor's benefits. Stepchildren, grandchildren, and adopted children qualify under certain circumstances. Full-time high school students can receive benefits until age 19. Children who became disabled before age 22 and remain disabled qualify as well.
Dependent parent. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will ask for documentation of your disability or the reason you can't work and were dependent on your child for support.
If you collect survivors benefits but are a wage earner eligible for retirement benefits, you will need to choose between receiving survivors benefits and your own retirement benefits. If you work, your survivors benefits may be reduced if your income exceeds levels set by the SSA.
To file for social security benefits, call the SSA or visit SSA online. On its Web site, the agency lists all the questions SSA will ask you and documentation required for each type of survivor. In addition to monthly survivor payments, spouses or minor children may qualify for a one-time death benefit payment, currently $255 (subject to change). Note that if the worker was receiving monthly SSA retirement benefits, those checks cannot legally be cashed by a survivor. Any checks that arrive after the worker's death should be returned to SSA. Benefits should be applied for promptly upon the worker's death.
Social Security toll-free information: 1-800-772-1213 or TTY number 1-800-325-0778