If a loved one has died
- By Milt x_Zall
- Jun 08, 2001
This column continues last week's look at survivor benefits from the Social
To start with, how you sign up for survivor benefits depends on whether
you're getting other Social Security benefits.
If You Aren't Getting Social Security Benefits
You should apply for survivor benefits promptly because, in some cases,
benefits may not be retroactive. You can apply by telephone or at any Social
Social Security needs certain information to process your application. It's
helpful if you have it handy when you apply, but don't delay applying if
you don't have everything. Social Security will help you get the information
Social Security needs either original documents or copies certified by the
agency that issued them. The information includes:
If You're Already Getting Social Security Benefits
* Proof of death, either from a funeral home or a death certificate.
* Your Social Security number, as well as the deceased's.
* Your birth certificate.
* Your marriage certificate, if you're a widow or widower.
* Your divorce papers, if you're applying as a surviving divorced spouse.
* Dependent children's Social Security numbers, if available.
* 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 number so benefits can be directly
deposited into your account.
If you're getting benefits as a wife or husband on your spouse's record
when he or she dies, you should report the death to Social Security and
the agency will change your payments to survivor benefits. If Social Security
needs more information, a representative will contact you.
If you're getting benefits on your own record, you'll need to complete an
application to get survivor benefits. Call or visit Social Security and
a representative will check to see if you can get more money as a widow
or widower. The agency will need to see your spouse's death certificate
to process your claim. Benefits for any children will automatically be changed
to survivor benefits after the death is reported to Social Security. The
agency will contact you if it needs more information.
How Much Will You Get?
The amount of your benefit is based on the earnings of the person who died.
The more he or she paid into Social Security, the higher your benefits will
be. The amount you will get is a percentage of the deceased's basic Social
Security benefit. The percentage depends on your age and the type of benefit
you are eligible for. Here are the most typical situations:
Maximum Family Benefits
* Widow or widower, age 65 or older 100 percent.
* Widow or widower age, 60-64 about 71 percent to 94 percent.
* Widow, any age, with a child under age 16 75 percent.
* Children 75 percent.
There is a limit to the amount of money that can be paid to you and other
family members each month. The limit varies, but is generally equal to about
150 percent to 180 percent of the deceased's benefit rate. If the sum of
the benefits payable to the family members is greater than this limit, the
benefits will be reduced proportionately.
Retirement Benefits For Widows and Widowers
If you are a widow or widower (including divorced widows or widowers) receiving
benefits, you should remember that you can switch to your own retirement
benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you're eligible and your retirement
rate is higher than your widow(er) rate. In many cases, a widow(er) can
begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then switch to the other
benefit at an unreduced rate at age 65. The rules are complicated and vary
depending on your situation, so you should talk to a Social Security representative
about the options available to you.
What If You Work?
If you get Social Security survivor benefits, your benefits may be reduced
if your earnings exceed certain limits. To find out what the limits are
this year and how earnings above those limits reduce your Social Security
benefits, check How Work Affects Your Benefits (Publication No. 05-10069). There is no earnings limit once you
reach age 70. Your earnings will reduce only your survivor benefits, not
the benefits of other family members.
What If You Remarry?
Generally, you can't get survivor benefits if you remarry. But, remarriage
after age 60 (50 if you are disabled) will not prevent benefits payments
on your former spouse's record. And, at age 62 or older, you may get benefits
on the record of your new spouse if they are higher.
For More Information
You can find the answers to many of the questions you may have about Social
Security on its Web site (www.ssa.gov). The site includes
publications you can download on all aspects of Social Security programs;
forms you can use to request a variety of services; and an electronic newsletter
that you can receive by e-mail.
You also can get information 24 hours a day, ever day, by calling SSA's
toll-free number: (800) 772-1213. You can speak to a service representative
between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. on business days. The line is busiest
early in the week and early in the month, so if your business can wait,
it's best to call at other times. Whenever you call, have your Social Security
Zall, Bureaucratus columnist and a retired federal employee, is a freelance
writer based in Silver Spring, Md. He specializes in taxes, investing, business
and government workplace issues. He is a certified internal auditor and
a registered investment adviser. He can be reached at [email protected].