What Qualifications Do I Need to Get Social Security Survivors Benefits


If your Social Security-eligible husband or wife recently died, you may ask, “What qualifications do I need to get Social Security survivors benefits?” You may qualify to draw Social Security benefits of a deceased husband or wife, or a deceased ex-husband or wife, in some circumstances.

Your qualifications for Social Security survivors’ benefits include your husband or wife’s earnings record:

  • He or she was able to earn a maximum of four work credits per year. As of this writing, a worker receives a work credit for every USD 1,260 of employment (or self-employment) income. After a worker earns USD 5,040 in the work year period, he or she earns four work credits for Social Security purposes.
  • Social Security also considers your disability status, age, income, parental responsibilities, and marital status to determine the qualifications needed to claim Social Security survivors’ benefits.
  • The age at which your husband or wife died will also affect the number of credits needed for survivors benefits. If he or she worked at least 10 years (or 40 work credits), he or she is eligible for Social Security retirement, disability, or survivors’ benefits.

Social Security Work Credits and Survivors Benefits

If a deceased husband or wife didn’t earn enough work credits to pass along survivors’ benefits, it is possible for a surviving mother or father to claim Social Security benefits. For instance, if he or she earned at least six work credits over a three-year period before the date of death, it may be possible to qualify for some Social Security benefits in that case. In addition:

  • If the deceased husband or wife was receiving disability benefits or retirement income when he or she died, surviving family members may be paid survivors benefits on the entitlement.
  • In this scenario, it’s important to apply for the deceased husband/wife’s Social Security benefit payments as soon as possible.

If your husband or wife died and you receive survivors’ benefits from Social Security, you won’t lose these benefits if you remarry after age 60. If you’re disabled or blind, you may continue to receive survivors’ benefits if you remarry after age 50. The decision to remarry can even increase your monthly Social Security benefits. Your earnings history, and that of your new spouse, can qualify you for a higher monthly benefit. If you remarry and have children who receive Social Security survivors’ benefits, their monthly benefits aren’t affected.

Qualifications Needed to Draw Social Security Survivors Benefits

If you and/or a now-deceased husband or wife earned money and paid taxes over at least 10 years, you and he or she probably qualify for Social Security benefits. Social Security offers retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits to Social Security beneficiaries and certain family members.

Your deceased husband or wife’s eligibility for Social Security payments is dependent on his or her earnings history. As above, if you didn’t pay FICA taxes or earn a minimum number of work credits over time, you might not qualify for Social Security insurance.

However, even if you or a now-deceased spouse didn’t earn enough work credits to qualify for Social Security benefits, you may still qualify for Supplemental Security Income (SSI). Unlike retirement, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI), and survivors’ benefits, SSI is designed to assist low income individuals and families.

  • If you/your spouse suffered from a serious medical or mental condition or disability and your financial resources are severely limited, it’s possible for you to claim SSI benefits even if you didn’t pay FICA insurance or earn sufficient (or any) credits on a Social Security work record.
  • If you worked in the home, never worked outside of your home, or worked outside the home on a very limited basis, Supplemental Security Income disability may be able to help.

If you have questions about how to submit an application for survivors’ benefits, contact Social Security’s general information number at 1-800-772-1213. You may also visit a local Social Security field office to learn what information you need to submit a Social Security survivors’ benefits application or a Supplemental Security Income application.

Social Security Survivors Benefits Application

Apply for Social Security survivors benefits as soon as possible after the death of your spouse. You may begin the application for survivors’ benefits by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (or 1-800-325-0778 for TTY) between the hours of 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. EST on weekdays. You can also request an appointment at your local Social Security office to complete an application. You aren’t required to arrange an appointment but doing so can save wait time at the SSA field office.

  • If you already receive Social Security retirement or SSDI income on your own work record, you must apply for survivors’ benefits. SSA then automatically changes monthly retirement or disability to survivor benefits if this amount is greater.
  • If you don’t receive current Social Security benefits, it’s important to do so as soon as possible. Social Security might not allow you to claim survivors’ benefits on a retroactive basis later on.

Bring the following documents to your local SSA field office or have them available for reference during a phone appointment with SSA. If you’re applying for widow/widower/surviving divorced husband or wife survivors’ benefits, provide:

  • proof of the insured’s death;
  • your original birth certificate or certified copy of birth certificate or other proof of birth;
  • S. citizenship or legal alien status if you weren’t born in the U.S.;
  • military discharge paperwork if you/your spouse served in the armed forces prior to 1968;
  • marriage certificate

If you’re applying for disability benefits, you must complete forms SSA-3368 (www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-3368.pdf) and SSA-827 (www.ssa.gov/forms/ssa-827.pdf). Bring self-employment IRS tax information for at least the previous year or W2 forms for employment earnings. SSA accepts photo copies of your income and tax records but you must supply original copies of personal identifying information. SSA will return original documents to you by mail.

  • If you’re concerned about sending original documents to Social Security through the mail, make an appointment at a local SSA office.
  • If you’re divorced and want to claim survivors’ benefits on the work record of a former husband or wife, have your final divorce decree available.

Current Social Security Recipients and Survivors Benefits

There are some circumstances in which you aren’t required to submit an application or multiple documents. If your now deceased husband or wife is already receiving Social Security retirement or SSDI benefits, and you were already receiving Social Security benefits based on his or her record (or that of a parent’s Social Security record), you may not need to submit any qualifications or an application for survivors’ benefits.

Social Security will change monthly benefits to survivor benefits after the death is reported (funeral home records or death certificate). Once the death is properly reported, Social Security automatically pays the lump sum death payment benefit of USD 255. You may still qualify for the lump sum death benefit even if you weren’t living with the deceased husband or wife when he or she died. A dependent child may also receive the death payment benefit.