The loss of a loved one is a devastating ordeal, especially so when the loved one has been the main wage earner or income provider. Social Security is a benefit program that assists with paying benefits to the surviving family members. For specific information on your Social Security eligibility you should contact the Social Security Administration directly. Below is some basic information meant to serve as a basic reference guide that addresses the most common questions.

Who is Eligible for Social Security?

No more than 10 years of work history and contributions into Social Security are required to receive benefits. You may qualify for benefits to be payed to the spouse and children of the deceased under a special rule that requires as little as 1.5 years of work history. Contact the Social Security Administration directly for more specific information on eligibility requirements.

The Social Security Administration pays $4.6 billion dollars to 8.3 million individualswith an average monthly payment of $528 per month.

Who May Get Benefits

Who will actually qualify for benefits is a decision made by the Social Security Administration, but the guidelines below will give you a good idea.

  • Your widow or widower may be able to receive full benefits at retirement age, depending on the year of birth. In the case of a disabled spouse, these benefits may begin as early as age 50, before the retirement age.
  • Your widow or widower qualifies to receive benefits at any age if they are the sole care provider for a dependent child who is receiving Social Security benefits already, the dependent is younger than age 16 and/or disabled.
  • Your children who are unmarried and younger than age 18 (or up to 19 if the child is enrolled at an accredited school full time) may also receive Social Security benefits. If your children were disabled before the age of 22 and remain disabled they also qualify for these benefits.  The Social Security Administration does allow for benefits to be paid under special circumstances to step-children, grandchildren, and adopted children, contact them directly for more information.
  • If you have been divorced, your former wife or husband who is age 60 or older (50-59 if disabled) can get benefits if your marriage lasted at least 10 years.

Social Security Benefit Amount

A one-time payment of $255 will be made to the spouse or children at the time of their death if they have established enough work history with the Social Security Administration.  Eligible survivors must request this payment within two years of the date of death. The amount of the monthly benefit amount varies based on the average lifetime earnings.

How to Apply

You must apply at any Social Security office in person or by telephone. For your convenience we have listed some of the documents often needed when applying for benefits.  If you do not have these items the Social Security office will be able to help you obtain copies or original documents if possible.  The toll free number for Social Security is 1-800-772-1213.

  • Your Social Security number and the deceased’s
  • The official death certificate
  • The deceased proof of income or earnings for the last fiscal year ( i.e. W-2 form or a self employment tax return).
  • Your marriage certificate (when applying for the benefits of a widow).
  • Your divorce papers (if applying for benefits as a divorced spouse of the deceased).
  • Birth certificates and social security numbers of all children of the deceased if applying for minor benefits.
  • Your banking account information if you opt for direct deposit of Social Security benefits.