Understanding Your Social Security Survivorship Benefits
While painful to contemplate, death is nonetheless a fact of life for which we all need to prepare.
The death of a spouse brings its unique kind of grief, along with a list of tasks that must be completed, often within a specific time frame. One of the first things a surviving spouse must do as soon as possible after their husband or wife passes is to contact the Social Security Administration regarding possible survivor’s benefits. It is important to note that the deceased spouse must have worked long enough to qualify for benefits. This determination is based on a specific formula that is somewhat complex.
However, in general, the survivors’ benefit amount is higher when the deceased spouse earned more and paid more into the system. The final amount is a percentage of the deceased’s basic Social Security benefit and depends on the survivor’s age and the type of benefit for which they are eligible.
The survivors’ benefits application cannot be made online, so you must understand the application procedure before the death of your loved one. Do not put this off, as it could have negative financial consequences for you and your family and cause added stress and frustration. As soon as possible after your spouse’s passing, you will need to contact Social Security (1-800-772-1213) to schedule an appointment.
If you have planned the funeral, which I highly recommend, your funeral director will likely report the spouse’s death to Social Security for you. If not, you will need to provide the director with the deceased’s Social Security number and instruct them to make the report.
If you elect to apply on your own, you must advise Social Security as soon as possible of the death so that you and other surviving family members will get the benefits to which you are entitled. If you and your spouse lived together at the time of passing, Social Security will issue a one-time payment of $255. This isn’t much, I realize, but it can help with some of the smaller expenses associated with the funeral.
In some cases, surviving spouses may be entitled to receive this one-time payment even if they lived apart at the time of death. If there is no surviving spouse, the benefits on the deceased’s record may go to an eligible child. Certain family members are also eligible to receive monthly payments, provided the deceased worked the required amount of time specified by Social Security guidelines. Social Security will make this determination after they receive notification of death.
Suppose you are the widower or widow of someone determined to have worked long enough under Social Security rules. In that case, you can receive full benefits at the full retirement age, or you may elect to receive reduced benefits starting at age 60. If the surviving spouse is disabled and that disability began within seven years of the deceased worker’s death, you may be able to get survivor’s benefits as early as age 50.
Several other situations and particular circumstances are associated with Social Security survivor’s benefits. I recommend that you spend some time on the Social Security website before your spouse’s death so that you will be able to grasp some of the more complicated aspects of these benefits. You may also want to enlist the help of a financial professional who is well-versed in the many nuances of Social Security planning.
As with most things in life, planning will alleviate some of the inevitable stress when your spouse dies. With the help of a trusted and knowledgeable advisor, you can include the potential of survivor’s benefits in your financial plan and ensure those benefits will be available to you when you need them the most.
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