Understanding Social Security > Survivors Benefits



Survivors Benefits

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A portion of the payroll taxes individuals pay after they begin working goes toward providing survivors insurance for themselves and their families through the Social Security Survivors Insurance program.  When someone dies, certain members of their family may become eligible for survivors benefits.  These family members include:

  • Widows and widowers (along with divorced widows and widowers);
  • Children;
  • Dependent parents (if they are age 62 and older)

The benefit amount an individual can get from Social Security survivors insurance depends on the average lifetime earnings of the worker whose benefits they are claiming.  The more income a worker has earned, the larger the survivors’ benefits will be.

SSA uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount to calculate the percentage survivors are entitled to.  The percentage will vary depending on the survivors’ ages and relationship to the worker.  If the individual who died was receiving reduced benefits, their survivor’s benefit will be based on that amount.

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Fast Facts

June 2013 Beneficiary Data

Survivors of Deceased Workers


6.2 million survivors of deceased workers

$6.2 billion in benefits

$1,221 average monthly benefit


  • Survivors of deceased workers account for about 11% of total benefits paid.
  • About 1 in 8 of today’s 20 year-olds will die before reaching age 67.
  • About 96% of persons aged 20-49 who worked in covered employment in 2011 have survivors insurance protection for their young children and the surviving spouse caring for the children.