Social Security is an important financial resource for most Americans. We tend to think of Social Security in terms of income we will receive during retirement, but the system includes additional provisions that can assist widows, widowers and their families with making ends meet following the death of their spouse.
The Social Security Administration refers to these benefits as “Survivor Benefits”. They can include you, your children, and other eligible dependents, like dependent parents. If the unthinkable should happen, you may be eligible for the following benefits:
Benefits for Your Children
If you are widowed and have minor children, your children may be eligible for a survivor’s benefit paid until age 18 (19 if they are still in high school). Children generally must be your deceased spouse’s biological child, dependent stepchild, or adopted child.
Children who are disabled before age 22 will continue to receive benefits.
Dependent children can receive up to one-half of the living parent’s full retirement or disability benefit, or up to 75% of the deceased parent’s basic Social Security benefit – up to a maximum family benefit.
In addition to the benefits intended for your children, you may also collect benefits while looking after your spouse’s dependent children who are under age 16.
While these benefits are helpful while you and your children are eligible, you should be aware of Social Security’s “blackout period” – the period of time when Social Security will reduce the household Social Security income as your children “age out”.
Adequate life insurance can help offset the loss of your spouse’s income following his or her death.
You can estimate your family’s benefits by reviewing your Social Security Statement.
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Benefits for You
Widows without minor children can begin collecting a reduced benefit based on your spouse’s records as early as age 60 (50 if you are disabled and the disability began before or within 7 years of your spouse’s death). But waiting until your full retirement age may entitle you to a higher benefit – as much as 100% of your spouse’s benefit.
If you remarry prior to age 60, you will no longer be eligible for Social Security benefits based on your spouse’s records unless that marriage ends by divorce, death or annulment. If you remarry after age 60, you may still qualify for benefits based on your deceased spouse’s records.
Benefits If You Are Divorced
If you are divorced, you may still be eligible for Social Security benefits based on your deceased ex-spouse’s record if your marriage lasted at least 10 years.
If you remarry prior to age 60, you will generally no longer be eligible for Social Security benefits based on your deceased ex-spouse’s records.
If you wait until after age 60 to remarry, then you may still qualify for benefits based on your deceased ex-spouse’s record. But if your existing spouse also qualifies for Social Security, then it might be beneficial to claim benefits on his or her records, if the benefit is higher.
You should consult with a Financial Adviser who can help you understand the benefits that may be available to your family, and provide solutions for any shortfalls.
To understand the complex Social Security system better, consider attending a class in your area: