How to Submit an Application for Social Security Survivors Benefits

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If you’re the husband or wife of a deceased spouse who earned Social Security earnings credits over his or her working life, you may want to know how to submit an application for Social Security survivors’ benefits.

Social Security Administration (SSA) currently provides retirement benefits to more than 40 million Americans. However, SSA also provides financial assistance to widows, widowers, and dependent children when an insured spouse or parent dies. According to the law of the Social Security Act, a person who has paid Social Security taxes over the years earns potential Social Security insurance benefits for themselves and certain family members.

Application for Social Security Survivors Benefits

There are several ways to prepare and submit an initial application for Social Security survivors’ benefits:

  • Visit Social Security My Account at ssa.gov/myaccount. If you haven’t already established your Social Security My Account, the form will ask you to provide several personal identifiers as verification. Next, choose a user name/password, and you can check earnings, get benefit estimates, change address or phone number, start/change direct deposit, and more.
  • If you don’t already receive Social Security financial benefits, contact Social Security’s general information line at 1-800-772-1213 to let SSA know you intend to file a Social Security survivors’ benefit claim.
  • If your deceased spouse was eligible to receive Social Security benefits, you will receive a one-time death benefit payment. The death payment may be paid to a spouse or a child of the decedent if certain qualifications are met. It’s important to apply for this payment as soon as possible. You have up to two years from your spouse’s date of death to apply for the death benefit.

Assemble documents you will need to prepare and submit the Social Security survivor benefits application. You need proof of your spouse’s death (either a death certificate or a funeral home’s proof of death). In addition, you must supply:

  • Your Social Security number and your deceased spouse’s Social Security number (SSN)
  • Your original birth certificate or a certified copy of your birth certificate
  • Your certificate of marriage/marriage license (if a widow or widower)
  • Your dependent children’s SSNs as well as original or certified birth certificate copies
  • Your spouse’s W2 earnings forms, or self-employment IRS tax return (most recent tax return filed)
  • Your bank checking or savings account number to process direct deposit payments each month

Requesting Social Security Survivors Benefits after Divorce

If you were divorced from a now-deceased Social Security-eligible worker, you must submit proof of divorce such as divorce decree or certified registered information about your divorce from the state or municipal court. If you remarried after divorce, you won’t qualify for survivors’ benefits.

If your former spouse remarried after your divorce, you and his or her other survivors may claim Social Security survivors’ benefits. However, if you care for a child less than 16 years old or a disabled child, the survivors’ benefits you claim may affect how much other survivors receive.

You can get Social Security survivors’ benefits if your marriage to the Social Security beneficiary lasted a minimum of 10 years or less if you’re caring for a child of the marriage who’s 16 years old or younger or disabled. If you’re caring for a child that you and the now-deceased former spouse legally adopted, the 10-year minimum doesn’t apply.

Social Security Survivors Benefits

The amount you receive in Social Security survivors’ benefits depends upon how much the Social Security beneficiary earned over his or her lifetime. The greater his or her income, the greater your monthly survivors’ benefits will be.

To estimate how much you can earn in survivors’ benefits, check your Social Security My Account page to review your Social Security Statement. This record is also useful to estimate retirement and/or disability benefits you may claim now or in the future.

Apply for Social Security Survivors Benefits

Knowing how to submit an application for Social Security survivors’ benefits can reduce some of the stress associated with losing a loved one or worrying about financial matters at this time.

You can apply for survivors’ benefits on the phone at 1-800-772-1213 or in person at a local Social Security field office. SSA recommends that you have as many of the required documents on hand as possible but, if you’re missing some information, don’t delay the start of your application. SSA is there to help.

As of this writing, Social Security assists more than five million widows or widowers with monthly benefit checks. The Social Security income received by these individuals is based upon work credits earned by deceased husbands or wives. Children of deceased Social Security beneficiaries also receive monthly benefits. To learn more about SSA survivors’ benefits, visit “Planning for Your Survivors” on the Social Security website at www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/onyourown.html.