What Are the Social Security Benefits for Survivors and Dependents?

Written by True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF® | Reviewed by Editorial Team

Updated on December 22, 2022

Survivor and Dependent Social Security Benefits

Social Security not only pays monthly income benefits to retirees and disabled persons, but can also do so for surviving spouses and their dependents in many cases.

As the name states, the Old Age, Survivor and Disability Insurance program (OASDI) is designed to provide survivors with healthy benefits long after the original recipients have passed away. But the rules governing how survivors receive this money can be complicated in many cases, and applicants for this type of income must know these rules in order to apply for them successfully.

In short, survivor income is available to the widowed spouses and dependents of those who qualify to receive monthly retirement income from the SSA based on their own past earnings.

Spouses, minor children, older children (over the age of majority) who are disabled and dependent parents of the retiree can all qualify for benefits. Step and foster children and grandchildren can also qualify in many instances. This applies for both retirement and disability benefits.

Eligibility for Benefits

In order for a worker's survivors to be eligible for benefits, he or she has to have worked at least a certain number of quarters of gainful employment, meaning that he or she must have earned at least a certain amount in a given quarter in order for that quarter to count towards the necessary number of them.

In 2020, this amount is $1,410 per quarter. If the worker dies and leaves behind a spouse and children, they are eligible to collect survivors' benefits as long as the worker earned at least six quarters of credits during the three calendar years prior to his or her death.

The amount of benefits that are paid will depend upon how much the worker earned during his or her working years and the age at which he or she filed for benefits.

Children under age 18 or 19, if still attending primary or secondary school, and disabled dependent children receive 75% of the normal benefit amount. A surviving spouse who cares for your minor child (or children) receives 75% of your benefit amount. A surviving single parent receives benefits at 82.5% of the normal amount. If the worker is survived by both of his or her dependent parents, they are eligible to collect 75% each.

Survivor Benefits

A surviving spouse is eligible to begin collecting survivor benefits at age 60.

However, they may want to wait and collect their own benefit if it is higher than the survivor's benefit. The smartest thing to do may be to collect the survivor's benefit from age 60 to 70 and then begin collecting their own maximum Social Security benefit for the rest of their lives.

Conversely, if the worker's own benefit is small compared to the survivor benefit, then he or she should take their own (reduced) benefit at age 62.

At age 66, they should switch over to the survivor benefit because it will not grow any larger at that point and will offer them a larger benefit than their own.


Social Security Benefits for Survivors and Dependents FAQs

What is Social Security?

Social Security is a governmental program that provides retirement benefits, disability income, survivor’s benefits and supplemental security income for those who are eligible.

Who is eligible for social security?

As a worker to be eligible for benefits you must be at least age 62 (or be disabled or blind), and you must have enough work credits to qualify for benefits.

How is social security taxed?

Taxes on your social security benefits will be based upon your combined income for the year. Combined income is defined as: Adjusted gross income + non-taxable interest income + ½ of your Social Security benefits. Based on your combined income for the year, 50% or 85% of your Social Security benefit could be subject to taxation for the year.

What's the difference between Medicare and Social Security?

Medicare is a publicly-available health insurance program, whereas Social Security is a governmental program that provides retirement benefits, disability income, survivor’s benefits and supplemental security income for those who are eligible.

About the Author

True Tamplin, BSc, CEPF®

True Tamplin is a published author, public speaker, CEO of UpDigital, and founder of Finance Strategists.

True is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance (CEPF®), author of The Handy Financial Ratios Guide, a member of the Society for Advancing Business Editing and Writing, contributes to his financial education site, Finance Strategists, and has spoken to various financial communities such as the CFA Institute, as well as university students like his Alma mater, Biola University, where he received a bachelor of science in business and data analytics.

To learn more about True, visit his personal website, view his author profile on Amazon, or check out his speaker profile on the CFA Institute website.

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