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What Are Survivor Benefits?

September 16, 2022

The Social Security Administration provides four types of Social Security benefits: retirement, disability, dependents, and survivor benefits. Survivor benefits are available to the children and spouses of deceased individuals who qualify.

If you qualify for retirement or disability benefits, your spouse and children have the right to obtain survivor benefits when you pass away. You also have a right to receive survivor benefits upon your spouse’s death if your spouse is qualified for Social Security benefits.

Requirements for Survivor Benefits

For your spouse and children to get survivor benefits upon your death, you and your family must meet specific requirements:

You must be qualified for Social Security retirement or disability benefits. Older adults must have worked long enough — in many cases, at least 10 years — to earn 40 credits. Workers can earn up to four credits each year, depending on their income.
However, people who die young may need fewer credits for their spouse and children to acquire survivor benefits. In some cases, spouses and children of workers with at least one-and-a-half credits earned in the three years preceding their death can get survivor benefits.
Your children must be under 18 or disabled. (If your children are disabled, they must have become disabled before age 22.)
Your spouse can receive survivor benefits at age 60, or 50 if they are disabled.
Other Family Members May Be Eligible

Stepchildren, grandchildren, adopted children, and dependent parents may be entitled to survivor benefits.

Can Same-Sex Spouses Receive Survivor Benefits?

Yes. In Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court held that the Constitution gives people the right to marry regardless of sex. Following Obergefell, the Social Security Administration allowed married same-sex spouses to get survivor benefits.

Can Spouses of Self-Employed Individuals Obtain Survivor Benefits?

Yes. Self-employed people can contribute to Social Security and become qualified for benefits. If your spouse was self-employed, you might be able to receive survivor benefits.

Can Surviving Divorced Spouses Get Survivor Benefits?

In certain cases, yes. If your marriage lasted 10 years or more, you could acquire survivor benefits on your ex-spouse’s work record.

Learn more about Survivor Benefits on the Social Security Administration’s website.