The Importance of Social Security Survivors Benefits


Death is something most of us don’t like to think about. We plan for life, for that day when we retire, for the places we’ll go and the things that we’ll do then. Unfortunately, death is a part of life we must prepare for. The death of a worker is devastating for the entire family, not only emotionally, but also financially.  

Social Security is here to help you secure today and tomorrow with financial benefits, tools, and information to help support you throughout life’s journey. Part of that promise is protection for your family when a worker dies. Many people think of Social Security only as a retirement program, but some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward survivors benefits for workers and their families.

In 2016, Social Security paid benefits to an estimated 6 million survivors of deceased workers. The value of our survivors benefits is probably more than the value of your individual life insurance.

When a worker dies, certain members of the family may be eligible for survivors benefits, such as widows and widowers, including divorced widows and widowers; children; and dependent parents. The amount of benefits a family receives depends on the worker’s lifetime earnings. The higher the worker’s earnings are, the higher the benefits will be.

We calculate a basic survivors benefit amount as if the worker reached full retirement age at the time of death. The full retirement age is age 66 for people born in 1945-1956 and is gradually increasing to age 67 for people born in 1962 or later.

Social Security also makes a one-time payment of $255 when a worker dies. We can only pay this benefit to the worker’s spouse or child if they meet certain requirements. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death.

You can check your Social Security Statement to see an estimate of survivors benefits we could pay your family. It also shows an estimate of your retirement and disability benefits and other important information. To review your Social Security Statement online, create a personal my Social Security account. Your my Social Security account is secure and gives you immediate access to your earnings records, Social Security benefit estimates, and a printable Statement. Those who already receive benefits can view their payment history and manage their benefits.

When a worker dies, we recommend that their survivors apply for benefits right away. You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office. For more information about survivors benefits, visit


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