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Poverty in our area: Social Security Survivor Benefits

Social Security survivor benefits are paid to widows, widowers, and dependents of eligible workers. This benefit is particularly important for young families with children. If you are working and paying into Social Security, some of those taxes you pay are for survivor benefits.

Nearly 5.9 million people receive Social Security survivor benefits. These monthly payments typically go to the spouse, former spouse, or children of someone who has died and was receiving or eligible for Social Security benefits.

About two-thirds of recipients are widows/widowers who have not remarried. They can collect survivor benefits from age 60 (50 if they are disabled). If a person is caring for a child of the deceased who is under 16 or disabled, there is no minimum age and the survivor benefit is 75 percent of the deceased’s Social Security payment.

Besides widows and widowers, ex-husbands and wives can claim survivor benefits if the marriage lasted ten years or more and they have not remarried. Survivor benefits can go to parents age 62 or older who were financially dependent on a son or daughter who has died. Minor and disabled children can collect 75 percent of a late parent’s benefit until age 18 (or up to 19 and 2 months if they are still in high school full time) or have a disability. There is a maximum family benefit.

You do not need to claim survivor benefits as soon as your spouse dies. There is no time limit to file, and survivor benefits grow if you delay claiming them until you reach your full retirement age (66). However, it might make sense to file as soon as possible after the death is reported to Social Security, depending on your financial situation. Survivor benefits are not retroactive to the time of death.

Survivor benefits are based on the amount the deceased had earned or was receiving from Social Security at the time of death or was entitled to receive if he or she died before filing for benefits. Social Security will also pay a lump-sum death benefit of $255 if you file an application within two years of death.

You cannot report a death or apply for survivors benefits online. Most funeral homes will report the person’s death to the Social Security Administration if you provide the deceased person’s Social Security number. You can also phone 1-800-772-1213 or go to the Social Security office in Scottsbluff at 415 Valley View Drive. The office can contact the Nebraska Office of Vital Records if you do not have all the paperwork you need.

Social Security benefits play a vital role in reducing poverty, lifting more Americans above the poverty line than any other program. If you qualify for benefits, the application process is not hard, and assistance is available through a phone call or at the Scottsbluff office.