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When a Social Security beneficiary dies, his or her surviving spouse is eligible for survivor benefits. A surviving spouse can collect 100 percent of the late spouse’s benefit if the survivor has reached full retirement age, but the amount will be lower if the deceased spouse claimed benefits before he or she reached full retirement age. (Full retirement age for survivor benefits differs from that for retirement and spousal benefits; it is currently 66 but will gradually increase to 67 over the next several years.)
If you were already receiving spousal benefits on the deceased’s work record, Social Security will in most cases switch you automatically to survivor benefits when the death is reported. Otherwise, you will need to apply for survivor benefits by calling the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or contacting your local Social Security office.
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In most cases, a widow or widower qualifies for survivor benefits if he or she is at least 60 and had been married to the deceased for at least nine months at the time of death. But there are a few exceptions to those requirements:
- If the late beneficiary’s death was accidental or occurred in the line of U.S. military duty, there’s no length-of-marriage requirement.
- You can apply for survivor benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled and the disability occurred within seven years of your spouse’s death.
- If you are caring for children from the marriage who are under 16 or disabled, you can apply at any age.
Whether you have wed again can also affect eligibility. If the remarriage took place before you turned 60 (50 if you are disabled), you cannot draw survivor benefits. You regain eligibility if that marriage ends. And there is no effect on eligibility for survivor benefits if you remarry at or past 60 (50 if disabled).