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Survivors' Benefits

The Code of Federal Regulations, Title 20, Section 404.330 provides that the widow or widower of an insured person who was entitled to Social Security disability benefits (or old age benefits, if the insured was of retirement age and his or her Social Security disability benefits had been converted to old age benefits) may be entitled to survivor’s benefits if he/she satisfy the following criteria:

  • Your relationship lasted at least one year, OR
  • you and the insured are parents of a natural born child, OR
  • in the month before your marriage to the insured you were entitled to annuity payments on the Railroad Retirement Act for widows, widowers, parents, or children;

AND

  • you apply for benefits;

AND

  • you are at least age 62 and you meet all other conditions of entitlement OR
  • you have in your care a child who is entitled to a child’s benefits on the insured’s record and the child is either under age 16 or disabled AND you are not entitled to Social Security disability benefits or old age benefits that are equal to or larger than the insured’s full benefit.

You can apply for survivor’s benefits by telephone or at any Social Security office. Apply for survivor’s benefits as soon as possible after the death of the insured, since benefits are often paid from the date you apply and not from the date the insured died.

Social Security will ask you for various documents and information, but you do not have to have everything together before you apply for disability. Social Security asks for original or certified copies of the documents it requests. It is important that you make copies of everything you give to Social Security, since it is not uncommon for documents to be lost.

You will be asked to provide a death certificate for the insured, Social Security numbers for you, your dependent children, and the insured, your birth certificate and those of your dependent children, your marriage certificate, if the insured was your spouse, your divorce documents, if you apply as a divorced widow or widower, the insured’s W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year and the name of your bank and your account number for direct deposit.

If you are already receiving Social Security disability benefits or old age benefits based on your own work record, contact Social Security after the insured’s death to determine if your Social Security disability benefits or old age benefits would increase as a widow or widower. If so, Social Security will change your benefits to survivor’s benefits after seeing your spouse’s death certificate and after you fill out an application.