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AARP's Social Security Q&A Tool

How do survivor benefits work?

En español | About 5 million widows and widowers receive monthly benefits from Social Security based on the earnings records of their deceased spouses. Benefits also go to many children of deceased workers. Widows and widowers who have reached full retirement age generally receive 100 percent of the spouse's benefit. They can take reduced survivor benefits as early as age 60-- or 50 if disabled. If they are under full retirement age, they receive about 71.5 to 99 percent of the worker's benefit.

Widows and widowers can also receive benefits at any age if they take care of the deceased's child if the child is under age 16 or disabled. The individual caring for the child receives 75 percent of the worker's benefit. Benefits can be paid to unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 and two months if they are attending high school full time. The child receives 75 percent of the worker's benefit. Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children. Benefits can be paid to children at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Benefits can be paid to dependent parents who are 62 or older. For parents to qualify as dependents, the deceased worker -- that is, the son or daughter --would have had to been providing at least one-half of the parent's financial support.

If your divorced spouse dies, you can receive benefits as a widow or widower if the marriage lasted 10 years or more, you are age 60 or older (age 50 if disabled). Rules may vary if you remarry. The rules are complicated and the best source for personal information is Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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