Nearly 5.9 million people received Social Security survivor benefits in March 2023. These monthly payments typically go to the spouse, former spouse or children of someone who was receiving or eligible for Social Security benefits. In some circumstances, parents, grandchildren or stepchildren of a late worker may also qualify for survivor benefits.
In most cases, survivor benefits are based on the amount the deceased was receiving from Social Security at the time of death (or was entitled to receive if he or she died before filing for benefits). You can apply by phone at 800-772-1213 or in person at your local Social Security office.
Local offices have fully reopened after being closed to walk-in traffic for more than two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but Social Security recommends calling in advance and scheduling an appointment to avoid long waits.
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About two-thirds of recipients are widows and widowers. They can collect survivor benefits from age 60 (50 if they are disabled), at rates ranging from 71.5 percent to 100 percent of the late spouse’s Social Security benefit, depending on the survivor’s age. There is an exception if you are caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 or disabled; in this case there is no minimum age and the survivor benefit is 75 percent of the deceased’s Social Security payment.
You need not claim survivor benefits as soon as your spouse dies or at your earliest eligibility age. There is no time limit to file, and they actually grow if you delay claiming them until you reach your full retirement age. For survivor benefits, full retirement age is 66 and two months for someone born in 1957 and rising incrementally to 67 over the next several years.
However, depending on your financial situation it might make sense to file as soon as possible after the death is reported to Social Security. Survivor benefits are dated from the time you apply and are not retroactive to the time of death.