Who is eligible to collect Social Security survivors benefits?

The spouses, ex-spouses, children and other dependents of deceased Social Security Disability recipients may be entitled to survivors benefits.

Most people in Westbury know that Social Security provides benefits to people who cannot work or support themselves due to disabling medical conditions. However, many people do not realize that Social Security can also provide benefits to qualifying family members after a beneficiary passes away. These survivors benefits may be available to spouses, ex-spouses, children and other former dependents of deceased Social Security Disability beneficiaries.

Surviving or divorced spouses

As long as surviving spouses have not remarried, they are eligible to collect survivors benefits. The age at which a spouse can start collecting benefits depends on a few factors:

  • Generally, surviving spouses must be at least 60 years old to receive survivors benefits.
  • Surviving spouses who were disabled when the beneficiary died or became disabled during the following seven years may be able to start collecting benefits after age 50.
  • If a surviving spouse is caring for the beneficiary’s child and the child is less than 16 years old or disabled, the spouse may collect survivors benefits regardless of age.

Surviving spouses who remarry before becoming eligible for survivors benefits lose their eligibility. However, a surviving spouse may remarry and continue collecting benefits if the spouse does so after age 60 or, if the spouse is disabled, after age 50.

A divorced surviving spouse may also be entitled to collect survivors benefits, if all of the above criteria are met. Additionally, the spouse’s marriage to the deceased beneficiary must have lasted at least one decade.

Benefits for children

The children of deceased beneficiaries are also entitled to survivors benefits as long as they are under age 18 and unmarried. Children who are enrolled fulltime in elementary or secondary school may continue collecting benefits at age 19. Disabled adult children, or children with disabilities that started before age 22, may continue collecting benefits at any age.

Survivors benefits for children are not just limited to a beneficiary’s direct biological children. Adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren and others may be eligible for these benefits as well.

Applying for benefits

Once a beneficiary’s death is reported, Social Security automatically starts awarding survivors benefits to any relatives who were previously receiving dependent benefits. Spouses, children and others who were not receiving benefits before the beneficiary’s death must contact Social Security and apply for survivors benefits. Since these benefits cannot always be awarded retroactively, family members may benefit from applying as soon as they reasonably can.

People who believe that they may be entitled to survivors benefits should consider consulting with a Social Security Disability attorney. An attorney can help a person understand his or her eligibility for benefits and avoid delays or mistakes during the application process.