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Social Security Survivors Benefits: How to Get Death Benefits

Written by
Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney
Jackie Jakab
Lead Attorney
December 6, 2023  ·  3 min read
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See if you qualify

If your loved one received Social Security Disability Insurance benefits and recently died, you may qualify as a surviving family member to receive continuing payments from the Social Security Administration. Learn more about the survivors benefits amounts and how to apply. 


What are SSDI survivors benefits?

Survivors benefits, also known as widow benefits, are monthly payments for widows, widowers, and dependents of deceased eligible workers who received Social Security Disability Insurance benefits. 

If you receive SSDI benefits, your family members can get survivor benefits if you die. Similarly, you might receive survivors benefits when a family member dies if your loved one worked long enough to qualify for benefits.

Survivors benefits are only applicable to family members of SSDI beneficiaries, not those in the Supplemental Security Income (SSI) benefits program. SSI is a separate, need-based benefits program that pays monthly benefits to low-income individuals with disabilities who are unable to work.


Who qualifies for survivors benefits?

Generally, people who qualify for SSDI survivor benefits include the surviving spouse, child, or dependent parent of the deceased. The qualifications and eligibility requirements include:

  • Surviving spouse age 60 or older (age 50 or older if they have a disability)

  • Surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances

  • Surviving spouse at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or has a disability and receiving child’s benefits

  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school)

  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22

  • A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child

  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support

Survivors benefits for spouses

A surviving spouse of a deceased person who received Social Security benefits can receive SSDI widow benefits. A surviving spouse can:

  • Receive reduced benefits beginning at age 60

  • Receive benefits as early as age 50 if you have a disability that started before or within 7 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 has a disability and receives child’s benefits

These guidelines apply to divorced spouses, too, as long as your marriage lasted for at least 10 years. If you remarry after age 60 (or age 50 if you have a disability), your marriage status will not affect your eligibility for survivors benefits. People who remarry before age 60, or before age 50 if they have a disability, cannot receive surviving spouse benefits while married.

Survivors benefits for children and adult children

Children who can receive survivors benefits generally include:

  • Unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school)

  • Unmarried child of the deceased, age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22

In certain circumstances, stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren, and adopted children, can collect survivors benefits. For grandchildren, the biological parents must be deceased or disabled and not supporting the child. The grandchild must have begun living with the grandparent before the age of 18, with the grandparent providing at least half of their support for at least a year before passing away.

Survivors benefits for dependent parents

Dependent parents might be able to receive SSDI survivors benefits. This includes biological parents, stepparents, and adoptive parents who became the parents of the deceased before they turned 16. Requirements include:

  • Parent must be at least 62

  • Parent received at least half of their support from the working child

  • Parent is not eligible to receive a retirement benefit higher than the potential death benefit

  • Parent must not have married after child’s death (with some exceptions)


How much are survivors benefits worth?

The SSA calculates your survivors benefits amount based on the earnings history of the deceased person. This means that the higher the amount they paid into Social Security, the higher your potential benefits. In general, eligible family members can receive a monthly maximum of between 150% and 180% of the basic benefit rate.

Survivors benefits amounts

Family member

Percentage of the deceased worker’s benefit amount

Surviving spouse (full retirement age or older)

100%

Surviving spouse (age 60 through full retirement age)

71.5% to 99%

Surviving spouse with a disability (age 50-59)

71.5%

Surviving spouse (any age) caring for a child under age 16

75%

Child under age 18 (age 19 if still in school) or who has a disability

75%

Dependent parent(s) (age 62 or older)

One surviving parent, 82.5%; two surviving parents, 75% to each parent

For example, if your spouse was receiving $1,200 of SSDI benefits each month when they died, and you are left with a dependent young child, you would be eligible to receive $900 of survivors benefits each month (75%). 

What is the lump sum death benefit?

A lump sum death benefit is a fixed payment from the Social Security Administration. If you were living in the same household as your spouse when they died, you might be eligible to receive a lump sum death benefit. If you were living separately from the deceased, but were receiving a portion of their benefits on their SSA record, you might be eligible. 

The lump sum death benefit is a one-time payment of $255. The SSA typically increases the amount to account for cost of living changes.

If the deceased does not have a surviving spouse, the benefit can go to their children. Call or visit your local Social Security office to see if you qualify to receive this benefit. 

How to apply for survivors benefits

To apply for SSDI death benefits, you must first notify the Social Security Administration of the death. Typically, funeral homes can report the death to the SSA if you provide the deceased person’s Social Security number. You can also report a death by calling 1-800-772-1213, the national number for Social Security, or your local SSA office.

You may not receive survivors benefits automatically, so it is important to apply for them. Unlike other benefits programs, you cannot apply for SSDI survivors benefits online — you must contact your local SSA office.

Documents for the survivors benefits application

When you apply for survivor benefits, the SSA may ask to see documents such as:

  • Proof of the worker’s death

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth

  • Marriage certificate

  • Final divorce decree, if applying as a surviving divorced spouse

  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if you were not born in the United States

  • U.S. military discharge papers if you had military service before 1968

  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns for last year

  • Checkbook or other papers that show your account number at a bank, credit union, or other financial institution so you can sign up for direct deposit 


Get help applying for SSDI

If you’re eligible for SSDI survivor benefits, the application process is fairly straightforward. In most cases, all you need to do is call the SSA, and they’ll get you set up to receive the benefits.

If you need assistance applying for disability benefits, Atticus can help. We have an extensive network of disability lawyers experienced in helping clients prove their disability to the SSA and win benefits. Take our 2-minute disability benefits quiz, and a member of our team will be in touch to learn more.

Ready to get benefits today?

Related resources:

Social Security and Divorce: Guide to Divorced Spouse Benefits

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

Your Guide to Social Security Disability Family Benefits

A hand drawn image of the lead disability lawyer.
By Jackie Jakab

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Jackie Jakab, Disability Attorney

Jackie Jakab

Lead Attorney

Jackie Jakab is Atticus’s Legal Director. She’s a licensed attorney, a graduate of the University of Chicago Law School, and has counseled thousands of people seeking disability benefits.
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