What Amount of Survivors Benefits Can I Claim

If your husband or wife recently passed away and he or she was eligible to receive Social Security benefits, you may ask “What amount of survivors’ benefits can I claim?” Social Security currently serves millions of individuals and families with more than USD 70 billion in retirement, disability, and survivors’ benefits.

According to SSA, more than 6 million people receive Social Security survivor benefits. Most of these survivors are children of deceased working parents or surviving spouses. SSA pays almost USD 7 billion per month in survivors’ benefits. The average survivors’ benefit payment is slightly less than USD 1,100 per month per qualifying family member. Non-disabled widows/widowers are the largest group of Social Security survivors’ beneficiaries.

Survivor Benefits Recipients

Social Security-eligible workers may pass on survivor benefits to family members in some instances. If you’re at or nearing full retirement age (FRA) according to SSA, your surviving husband or wife may be entitled to claim Social Security benefits on your account at age 60. According to data from SSA:

  • Non-disabled widows/widowers receive an average monthly benefit of about USD 1,250
  • Widowed fathers/mothers receive an average monthly benefit of about USD 925
  • Children of decreased mothers/fathers receive an average monthly benefit of about USD 820
  • Disabled widows/widowers receive an average monthly benefit of USD 710
  • A dependent mother/father of a deceased worker (a very small percentage of people who receive survivors’ benefits) may receive a benefit of about USD 1100

Surviving members of the household who aren’t at retirement age may receive average smaller monthly benefits and surviving mothers/fathers less than 60 years old with childcare responsibilities also earn less. Interestingly enough, disabled surviving spouses earn the least amount of survivor benefits.

Presumably, children receive smaller monthly survivors’ benefits because a surviving caretaker parent has an employment income or receives an additional widowed mothers/fathers payment.

  • Children of Social Security-eligible workers may receive survivor benefits if they’re younger than 18 years of age.
  • If the child is up to 19 years of age and still in school, or disabled before he or she reached 22 years of age, he or she may be eligible for survivors’ benefits from Social Security.

Why Survivors Benefits Differ

Average survivors’ benefits can be misleading. Social Security rules determine the amount of survivors’ benefits each family member can receive and this amount can differ amongst members of the household:

  • Widows/widowers at FRA may claim and receive the deceased workers full Social Security retirement or disability benefit.
  • Younger spouses (between the age of 60 and FRA for birth year) receive a range of 71-1/2 percent to 99 percent of the deceased husband or wife’s retirement or disability benefit from Social Security.
  • Younger disabled husbands or wives or deceased eligible workers receive 71.5 percent of the Social Security-eligible individual’s benefit.
  • A husband or wife that cares for a child or children less than 16 years old receives 75 percent of the deceased husband or wife’s Social Security benefit. Eligible children of the deceased worker also receive 75 percent of his or her Social Security benefit.

Taking SSA’s rules into account, the average amount of survivors’ benefits received by children or disabled spouses makes sense. These individuals haven’t reached FRA, so the amount of survivors’ benefits these groups of survivors can claim is less.

Amount of Survivors Benefits and When to Take Social Security

Deciding when to claim Social Security benefits by the eligible worker can obviously affect his or her survivors. If the worker decides to take early retirement at age 62, the decision reduces his or her monthly benefit and the amount of survivors benefits a surviving husband, wife, child, or dependent parent may claim later. Conclusively, taking Social Security benefits at FRA or later means more money for everyone.

If you’re a dependent husband or wife of a Social Security-eligible worker, it’s a good idea to review information about Social Security earnings and credits with care before taking retirement. Social Security might have inadvertently attributed your earnings to another worker and, when it comes time to draw Social Security income or request survivors’ benefits, those earnings and work credits count.

According to SSA data, male workers today request benefits earlier than they did just two or three decades ago. Approximately 20 percent of male Social Security beneficiaries wait to reach FRA or later. Surprisingly, about 50 percent of men request Social Security benefits at the early retirement age of 62 (2010). The decision can make personal sense for many reasons and, of course, when to claim Social Security benefits is a personal choice. However, taking early retirement can cost the amount of survivors’ benefits to recipients about 25 percent!

In comparison, the decision to request Social Security benefits at full retirement age or later can actually add to the amount of survivors’ benefits family members can claim. SSA reports that just six percent of Social Security beneficiaries waited past FRA to claim benefits. Although actuaries say that the gap continues to narrow between male and female life expectancy, it’s important to wait as long as possible to claim Social Security retirement or disability benefits to receive the maximum financial benefit of these payments.