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Your Health

Bibi Taylor: Understanding Social Security Survivor’s Benefits

When you think of Social Security, you probably think of retirement. However, Social Security can also provide much-needed income to your family members when you die, making their financial lives easier.

Bibi Taylor
Bibi Taylor

Your family may be entitled to receive survivor's benefits based on your work record. When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible to receive survivor's benefits (based on your earnings record) if you worked, paid Social Security taxes and earned enough work credits.

The number of credits you need depends on your age when you die. The younger you are when you die, the fewer credits you'll need for survivor's benefits. However, no one needs more than 40 credits (10 years of work) to be "fully insured" for benefits. And under a special rule, if you're only "currently insured" at the time of your death (i.e., you have six credits in the 13 quarters prior to your death), your children and your spouse who is caring for them can still receive benefits.

Survivor's benefits may be paid to:

» Your spouse age 60 or older (50 or older if disabled)

» Your spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled

» Your ex-spouse age 60 or over (50 or older if disabled) who was married to you for at least 10 years

» Your ex-spouse at any age, if caring for your child who is under age 16 or disabled

» Your unmarried children under 18

» Your unmarried children under 19, if attending school full time (up to grade 12)

» Your dependent parents age 62 or older

This is a general overview; the rules are more complex. For more information on eligibility requirements, contact the Social Security Administration at 800.772.1213.

How Much Will Your Survivors Receive?

An eligible family member will receive a monthly survivor's benefit based on your average lifetime earnings. The higher your earnings, the higher the benefit. This monthly benefit is equal to a percentage of your basic Social Security benefit. The percentage depends on your survivor's age and relationship to you.

For example, at full retirement age or older, your spouse may receive a survivor's benefit equal to 100 percent of your basic Social Security benefit. However, if your spouse has not yet reached full retirement age at the time of your death, he or she will receive a reduced benefit, generally 71 to 94 percent of your basic benefit (75 percent if your spouse is caring for a child under age 16). Your dependent child may also receive 75 percent of your basic benefit.

A maximum family benefit rate caps the total amount of money your survivors can get each month. The total benefit your family can receive based on your earnings record is about 150 to 180 percent of your basic benefit amount. If the total family benefit exceeds this limit, each family member's benefit will be reduced proportionately.

You can get an estimate of how much your survivors might be eligible to receive using one of the benefit calculators available on the Social Security website by clicking here.

Please feel free to email questions about Social Security to [email protected].

— Bibi Taylor, MBA, is a wealth manager for AmeriFlex, 3700 State St., Suite 310, in Santa Barbara. Call 805.898.0893 for more information.

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