Social Security Benefits


Who can receive Social Security Benefits?

Some of the deceased's family members may be able to receive Social Security benefits if the deceased person worked long enough under Social Security to quality for benefits.  You should get in touch with Social Security as soon as you can to make sure the family receives all of the benefits to which it may be entitled.  Please read the following information carefully to learn what benefits may be available.

A one-time payment of $255 can be paid to the surviving spouse if he or she was living with the deceased; or, if living apart, was receiving certain Social Security benefits on the deceased's record.  If there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased's record in the month of death.


Certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly benefits, including:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled);
  • A surviving spouse at any age who is caring for the deceased's child under age 16 or disabled;
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or age 18 or 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school); or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22;
  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support; and
  • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances.

What happens if the deceased received monthly benefits?

If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you must return the benefit received for the month of death and any later months.

For example, if the person died in July, you must return the benefits paid in August. How you return the benefits depends on how the deceased received benefits:

  • For funds received by direct deposit, contact the bank or other financial institution. Request that any funds received for the month of death or later be returned to Social Security.
  • Benefits received by check must be returned to Social Security as soon as possible. Do not cash any checks received for the month in which the person dies or later.
  • receive survivors benefits at any age, if you have not remarried and you take care of the deceased worker's child who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on the worker's record.

If you are the widow or widower of a person who worked long enough under Social Security, you can:

  • receive full benefits at full retirement age for survivors or reduced benefits as early as age 60.
  • begin receiving benefits as early as age 50 if you are disabled and the disability started before or within seven years of the worker's death.
  • receive survivors benefits at any age, if you have not remarried and you take care of the deceased worker's child who is under age 16 or is disabled and receives benefits on the worker's record.

If you remarry after you reach age 60 (age 50 if disabled), your remarriage will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits.

  • A widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse cannot apply online for survivors benefits. You should contact Social Security at 1-800-772-1213 to request an appointment. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, call our TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.)
  • If you wish to apply for disability benefits as a survivor, you can speed up the disability application process if you complete an Adult Disability Report and have it available at the time of your appointment.
  • We use the same definition of disability for widows and widowers as we do for workers.

A few other situations:

If you became entitled to retirement benefits less than 12 months ago, you may be able to withdraw your retirement application and apply for survivors benefits only. If you do that, you can reapply for the retirement benefits at a later date when they will be higher.

  • If you already receive benefits as a spouse, your benefit will automatically convert to survivors benefits after we receive the report of death.
  • If you are also eligible for retirement benefits (but haven't applied yet), you have an additional option. You can apply for retirement or survivors benefits now and switch to the other (higher) benefit at a later date.
  • For those already receiving retirement benefits, you can only apply for benefits as a widow or widower if the retirement benefit you receive is less than the benefits you would receive as a survivor.


The Social Security website is a valuable resource for information about all of Social Security's programs. There are a number of things you can do online.

In addition to using the Social Security website, you can call them toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.  Staff can answer specific questions from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.  They can also provide information by automated phone service 24 hours a day.  If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you may call the TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.