What Are Mother And Father’s Survivor Benefits?

Most people are aware that survivor benefits are potentially payable to children and older widows and widowers. Did you know that Social Security survivors benefits are not just for older widows or widowers? If eligible children are involved, a widow or widower of any age might be eligible for monthly Social Security benefits. 

Within Social Security, these survivor benefits are known as Mother or Father’s benefits. As usual, specific requirements must be met, in particular that this widow or widower has in her or his care a child of the deceased and that this child is receiving Social Security benefits on the record of the deceased parent. The child must be under age 16 or be disabled.

Other requirements include that the widow(er) be unmarried (some exceptions apply) and that she or he not be currently entitled to a higher Social Security retirement benefit on their own record.

For example, if a person dies and is survived by a young child and a spouse, both child and surviving spouse could be eligible for Social Security. The surviving parent could remain eligible until the child reaches age 16 or even longer if the child is disabled. 

How much is involved? The Mother and Father’s benefit amount is based on a percentage of the deceased parents full retirement age (FRA) amount (**see below), not the age of the person receiving monthly benefits. The starting monthly amount is 75 percent of the deceased person’s FRA amount, the same percentage that is potentially payable to each eligible child. Monthly amounts can be lower if the deceased parent had received Social Security benefits or if several people are receiving survivor benefits. Based on the work record of the deceased parent, there is a limit to the amount of survivor benefits payable to family members each month. 

This limit is the family maximum. It will vary based on individual work records but is generally in the range of 150 to 180 percent of the deceased parents basic benefit amount, before reductions. For this reason, the surviving parent sometimes decides not to file for potential Mother or Fathers benefits when several children are eligible so that all possible funds go to the children. In this case, as the older children grow up and go off SSA benefits, it would be good for the surviving parent to ask SSA about potential benefits. At some point, filing an application might be useful.

If the surviving parent is employed, the annual earnings test can lower their portion of payable benefits. This is another reason why some people decide not to file for potential Mother or Father’s benefits.

Always contact Social Security about possible benefits when there is a death in the family. For more about survivors benefits, see Survivors Benefits, SSA publication 05-10084 online or available from any SSA office.

 ** Under existing law, your full retirement age (FRA) is age 67 if you were born in 1960 or later. Obtain an estimate of your own full retirement age amount with the online Retirement Estimator or see the survivors estimates on your online Social Security Statement. Other calculators are at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/planners/benefitcalculators.htm.