Questions about Social Security survivor benefits

Understanding eligibility and how to apply for survivor benefits.

Older woman in a red cardigan gazing out a window.

The death of a loved one is an emotional challenge, but it can also carry a real financial impact. Because of the effect it can have on household finances and retirement savings, Social Security provides survivor benefits (sometimes called a Social Security death benefit). Almost 6 million Americans were receiving Social Security survivor benefits as of May 2021 — two-thirds of whom were bereaved spouses. Here are a few common questions people ask about how survivor benefits work:

What happens to Social Security after death?

When someone who is eligible for Social Security dies, their spouse could receive monthly payments in the form of survivor benefits, provided they themselves have reached their full retirement age. If the survivor qualifies for Social Security on their own earnings record, they'll receive whichever monthly amount is greater.

How do you collect Social Security death benefits?

This process typically happens automatically for those already receiving spousal benefits, but others may have to apply for their survivor benefits by phone or in person at a Social Security office.

Who qualifies for Social Security survivor benefits?

The list of those who qualify for Social Security survivor benefits includes surviving spouses, remarried spouses, divorced spouses, minor or disabled children, and dependent parents. The Social Security website provides a description of the eligibility criteria.

How long does a spouse get survivor benefits?

In general, survivor benefits are payable for life. A widow or widower can apply for benefits starting at age 60, but applying for benefits early (i.e., before reaching full retirement age) can lead to a reduction in the benefit amount.

The information in this article was obtained from various sources not associated with State Farm® (including State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company and its subsidiaries and affiliates). While we believe it to be reliable and accurate, we do not warrant the accuracy or reliability of the information. State Farm is not responsible for, and does not endorse or approve, either implicitly or explicitly, the content of any third party sites that might be hyperlinked from this page. The information is not intended to replace manuals, instructions or information provided by a manufacturer or the advice of a qualified professional, or to affect coverage under any applicable insurance policy. These suggestions are not a complete list of every loss control measure. State Farm makes no guarantees of results from use of this information.

Neither State Farm® nor its agents provide tax or legal advice.

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