When you think of Social Security, you probably think of how it can help you through retirement.

But Social Security provides benefits that can be useful for more than retirement.

In fact, they can also provide much-needed income for family members when you’re gone. To get the most out of your benefits, though, it’s important to understand what’s available and how the process works.

Survivors’ benefits.

Survivors’ benefits pay some or all your Social Security benefits to your surviving spouse or dependent children. Your work credits record is based on your age and when you die, and determines your payout amount. The younger you are, the fewer credits your family members need to receive your benefits. No one needs more than 40 credits (which amounts to 10 years of work) to pass along these benefits.

Who can receive survivors’ benefits?

Some general rules about who qualifies for survivors’ benefits include:

  • Your surviving spouse can receive your full benefits at their full retirement age, which varies depending on their birth year. For some, it’s currently age 66. For others, it’s 67 and could continue to change, so be sure you know your full retirement age.
  • Your surviving spouse could choose to receive reduced benefits as early as age 60.
  • Your widow or widower can receive benefits at any age if they’re providing care for your child under age 16, or if your surviving spouse is disabled and already receives Social Security benefits.
  • Your unmarried children under 18 (or 19 if they’re attending school full time).
  • Dependent parents age 62 or older.

How much will your survivors receive?

Essentially, the more you’ve paid into Social Security, the greater the benefit your survivors can receive up to a maximum cap. Your family members will get your “basic Social Security benefit,” a monthly sum based on your average lifetime earnings. How much of your basic Social Security benefit your family members will receive depends on your survivors’ age and relationship to you.

For example, at full retirement age or older, your spouse may receive 100% of your basic Social Security benefit. If your spouse hasn’t reached full retirement age at the time of your death, he or she will receive typically between 71% and 99% of your basic benefit. Dependent children may also receive 75% of your basic benefit.

Keep in mind that there’s a cap on the total amount your survivors can get each month. It’s usually between 150% and 180% of your basic benefit amount. If the total family benefit exceeds this limit, each family member’s benefit will be reduced.

Don’t forget the lump-sum benefit.

Your spouse may receive a lump-sum benefit of $255 if you lived together at the time of your death and you accumulated enough work credits. If you weren’t married at the time of your death, your Social Security benefit may be split among eligible children.

Apply right away.

When a loved one has passed away and you’re eligible for survivor benefits, it’s important to contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) sooner rather than later. If you and your children are already receiving benefits based on your spouse’s earnings record, the SSA will change those to survivor benefits. If not, you’ll have to fill out an application for benefits.

Here is a list of documents you may need when you apply:

  • Proof of death (a death certificate or funeral home notice).
  • Your Social Security number.
  • The deceased worker’s Social Security number.
  • Your birth certificate and your marriage certificate, if you’re a widow or widower.
  • Your divorce papers, if applicable.
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers.
  • Deceased worker’s W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return for the most recent year.
  • The name of your bank and your account numbers for direct deposit.

Social Security benefits are helpful in retirement and can also provide a helpful financial boost for your loved ones after you pass — but only if you and your family know how to take advantage of them. You’ve worked hard for decades to earn Social Security benefits. Make sure you understand how those benefits can keep working for your loved ones after you’re gone.

Social Security Guide Six Essentials to know

Some information sourced from Broadridge Investor Communication Solutions, Inc.
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