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How Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Work?

Social security remains as one of the most efficient savings schemes for retirement. Not only does it benefit the individual, but it can also be used by dependents after the unfortunate demise of the individual. Social security survivor benefits can be used as a security blanket by the spouse, children, grandchildren, or parents of the deceased. Here’s what you need to know about claiming survivor benefits.

Earning social security credits

In order for your family to be eligible for social security survivor benefits, you need to earn some credits through your working years. An able-bodied person can earn up to 4 credits in a year, and needs to earn a total of 40 credits (or work for 10 years) in order to avail survivor benefits. You can earn these credits by working and paying your social security taxes. As of 2020, you need to earn a minimum of $1410 to earn one credit or $5640 to earn four.

However, these rules are not universal and can differ based on the person’s age. For example, if a person passes away before being able to work for ten years, their social security benefits will be decided based on how many years they worked for before their unfortunate demise.

If the deceased person suffers from a disability, here’s how their credits are calculated depending on their age:

  • The number credits increase from 20, every year after the age of 43
  • Between the ages of 31 to 42, you need 20 credits
  • Between the age of 24 and 30, you need to have worked for at least half of the time from your 21st birthday to the time you became disabled. For example, if you became disabled at the age of 29, you need to calculate the number of years from 21 to 29, i.e. is 8 years, and have worked for at least half of it, i.e. 4 years
  • You need 6 credits before the age of 24

Calculating social security survivor benefits

Survivor benefits can differ for different people based on the number of years they work for. The amount also depends on the benefits the person was receiving at the time of their demise. Normally spouses can claim up to 71.5% to 100% of their spouse’s benefits. In case of an ex-spouse, you need to be married for at least 10 years in order to be eligible to claim these benefits.

Children can claim up to 75% of the deceased person’s benefits, but must be below the age of 18. If they are in high school, the age can be extended to 19 years and 2 months. In case of disability, the child must have been diagnosed with the condition before the age of 22. The important thing to note here is that only unmarried children can claim social security survivor benefits. Under certain circumstances, step children, grandchildren, and step grandchildren are also eligible to claim survivor benefits.

A single parent can claim up to 82.5% of the deceased person’s benefits. If both the parents are claiming these benefits together, the figure goes down to 75%. Parents need to be at least 62 or older and financially dependent on their child at the time of the child’s demise.

Withdrawing social security survival benefits

The spouse gets a one-time death benefit of $255 that can be claimed with immediate effect at any age. Apart from this the spouse can start to withdraw survivor benefits at the age of 60. Although the recommended age for people born before 1962 is 66 years and for the people born after that is 67 years. This is because you receive only 70% of the benefits at age 60 and delaying them by a few years can bring in better results.

If you have a disability, you can withdraw survivor benefits at the age of 50. If you have children with the deceased, then there is no age limit and benefits can be withdrawn earlier depending on the person’s requirements. However, in this case, the child should be under 16 and be either the deceased biological or legally adopted child.

If you remarry after the age of 60, you can still continue to enjoy survivor benefits without any difference. The same rule applies to disabled spouses who wish to remarry after the age of 50.

Exceptions to withdrawing survival benefits

If you remarry before the age of 60 you will not be eligible to receive survivor benefits as long as you are married. The same applies to a disabled person who remarries before the age of 50.

The one-time immediate lump sum death benefit of $255 can also only be received under the following circumstances:

  • You should have been living in the same house as your deceased spouse
  • You should be eligible to receive survivor benefits on the demise of your spouse
  • You had been receiving benefits on your spouse’s record.

The lump sum death benefits of $255 can also be received by the child of the deceased individual under the following circumstances:

  • You should be eligible to receive survivor benefits on the demise of your parent
  • You had been receiving benefits on your parent’s record
  • In case you haven’t been receiving any benefits, you can apply for the death benefit within two years from the parent’s demise

Applying for social security survival benefits

You need to visit your local social security office to submit an application along with some important documents. You will require the death certificate of the deceased, a marriage certificate (in case of spousal survivor benefits), a birth certificate or adoption papers (in case of parental survivor benefits), citizenship proof, etc. You must also remember to report the individual’s death to the social security authorities as soon as you can. The application for survivor benefits cannot be submitted online and must be submitted to the office in person.

To sum it up

Social security survivor benefits are a great way for families to cope with hard times. It gives them a financial cushion to cover their expenses and move on to other chapters in their lives. However, it is important to acquaint yourself with the rules that may apply to your situation, so you can avail the full benefits of social security. These rules may also change over time so it is advisable to visit the official social security website or the local office to clarify any doubts that you may have before applying for survivor benefits.

Are you going through a tough time and need help on how to apply for social security survivor benefits? You can reach out to Financial Advisor for help on understanding the process and how it can benefit you.

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