Survivor benefits to a young family

Q:  How much would Social Security pay my young children if I died?  

A:  How much depends on your average lifetime earnings.  Higher earnings provide higher benefits.  If you have enough work to be insured, Social Security calculates a basic amount as if you had reached full retirement age (FRA) at death.  Use the Retirement Estimator  to estimate your full retirement age amount based on your actual earnings record.   

Social Security survivor benefits are higher than life benefits because, since you are dead, benefits are not payable to you.  For simplicity, the following concerns only SSA survivor benefits that do not vary in amount with beneficiary age.  This is the usual situation when a younger person dies.  All children eligible on a parent’s record receive the same amount even though ages of the children vary. 

When a younger adult dies, usual SSA survivor benefits are to children but benefits to a widow or widower of any age are possible.  

Benefits are payable to your surviving children under age 18, those in high school up to about age 19 and to children severely disabled before age 22.  In addition, if remaining unmarried, your widow or widower might receive survivors benefits.  For this to apply they must be taking care of your under age 16 or disabled child while that child is receiving survivor benefits on your record.  Payment is possible because the surviving spouse is taking care of your eligible child.  It is not based on his or her age.  

Use for example someone survived by a 10 year old child and a 34 year old spouse.   Both child and surviving spouse can be eligible for Social Security.  The parent could remain eligible, if unmarried, until the child reaches age 16 or even longer if the child is disabled.  His or her employment during the year can reduce payable benefits to the surviving parent.  Earnings of this parent do not reduce benefits payable to the surviving child. 

The starting survivors estimate for this family is 75 percent of the deceased’s  full retirement age (FRA) amount, each, to child and surviving parent.  If the FRA amount is $1,000, the starting survivor benefit is $750 per month per person, a total of $1,500. 

Amounts could be reduced by the family maximum.   As the name implies, this is the maximum total monthly amount payable to family members on any given workers individual earnings record.  This amount is equal to about 150 to 180 percent of the full retirement age amount and usually is reached by the time three people are on the record.   When the maximum is reached, the total is divided so that all beneficiaries receive the same amount.  

Read about Social Security survivor benefits at www.socialsecurity.gov/pgm/survivors.htm.

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