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How do you apply for Social Security survivors’ benefits?

If you are unable to work due to a medical condition or disability, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can provide disability benefits. These benefits can help you pay medical bills and every day living expenses without making a regular income. If you are financially dependent on a worker who has died, you may be able to receive survivor’s benefits from the SSA to help with the costs and expenses you are left to handle.

Eligibility for Survivor’s Benefits

If you are the widow or widower of the deceased, you may be eligible for survivor’s benefits under a variety of different circumstances. You can receive full benefits, for instance, when you reach your full survivor retirement age. This is between 65 and 67, depending on your birth year.

At 60, you can receive partial survivor’s benefits, and at 50, you can receive full benefits if you are disabled, and have been for at least seven years before the worker’s death.

You can receive full benefits at any age if you care for the worker’s children, who must be under 16 or disabled themselves. Also note that if you remarry after age 60, or 50 if you are disabled, the marriage will not affect your eligibility for survivor’s benefits from your deceased spouse.

If you divorced the worker before their death, you are still eligible for survivor’s benefits under the same rules as a widow or widower, as long as you were married to the worker for ten years or more.

For a worker’s child to qualify for survivor’s benefits, they must be unmarried and under 18 years old, or 19 if in secondary school. If the child became disabled before age 22 and is still disabled, they are eligible for benefits no matter what their age. Stepchildren, adopted children, and grandchildren may also be eligible for survivor’s benefits if they meet certain criteria.

Even the parents of the deceased worker, if they were dependent on him or her for over half of their living expenses, will qualify for survivor’s benefits if they are over the age of 62.

Get Started Applying for Survivor’s Benefits

If you are already receiving disability benefits, the SSA will automatically change them to survivor’s benefits after they receive notification of the worker’s death. If you had not been receiving disability benefits already, you need to apply for survivor’s benefits. The sooner you apply for survivor’s benefits, the better, as they may not be retroactive.

To start the application for survivor’s benefits, you can contact the SSA by phone or find your local SSA office. You cannot apply for survivor’s benefits, or report a death to the SSA, online. Be sure to notify the SSA of the worker’s death as soon as possible. Usually, the funeral home making the arrangements for the worker will notify the SSA for you if you provide them with the worker’s social security number.

When you have an application appointment with the SSA, be sure to bring the following documents that apply to your specific circumstances:

  • Proof of death
  • Birth certificate
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Proof of disability
  • Certain SSA forms
  • W-2s and tax forms
  • Marriage certificate
  • Divorce decree
  • Child’s birth certificate
  • Proof of adoption

Get Help with Your Survivor’s Benefits

You may want to consider hiring a disability benefits lawyer or advocate to help you with your survivor’s benefits. A lawyer or advocate will help you with your benefits application and gathering the necessary evidence and documentation. If your benefits application is denied, a lawyer can also help you with your appeal process.