Excerpt from Life After Death
Social Security is a federal program that provides benefits to many—but not all—surviving spouses and some dependent children under several different programs. Entitlement to Social Security benefits is earned through work and payment of Social Security taxes. As a surviving spouse, you may be eligible for benefits as a result of your spouse’s work history and you will retain your own eligibility based on your work history.
Several groups of surviving family members may be eligible for benefits, including the following:
• Surviving spouses of either gender are eligible for full benefits at age 65 or older (for widowed persons born before 1940) or reduced benefits as early as age 60 (or age 50 if the widowed person is disabled under the Social Security definition of disability), so-called “widow(er)s rights.”
• Surviving spouses of either gender of any age if they are caring for at least one child of the decedent who is eligible for child’s benefits and is age 16 or younger or who is disabled, so-called “father’s or mother’s” benefits.
• Unmarried children under 18 (or up to 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school) can receive benefits, “child’s benefits.” Children of a decedent of any age who are disabled and became disabled before age 22 are also eligible.
• Dependent parents of a decedent who are at least 62 and for whom the decedent was providing at least half of their support are also eligible.
• There is also a one-time, lump-sum death benefit of $255 that can be made only to surviving spouses and minor children under certain circumstances. There are certain work history requirements for eligibility for this benefit.
To learn more about Social Security benefits eligibility, check out “Life After Death: A Legal and Practical Guide for Surviving Spouses” by Marilyn W. McWilliams.