Did you know that Social Security provides “survivor benefits” to widows and their children?
Widows can receive benefits, for themselves, if they are caring for a child under 16 or a child of any age who is permanently disabled. Each child under 18(1) can also receive a monthly check for him/herself, payable to the parent. The benefits paid to the widow and her child will each be equal to 75% of what the deceased father would have received at 67, his full retirement age (“FRA”).(2)
So, what could this look like, in dollar terms?
Currently, the average Social Security benefit is $1,461 per month, while the maximum benefit for someone who’s reached his FRA is $2,861. Thus a widow and her child could together receive something in the range of $2,100 to $4,300 per month in survivors’ benefits.
There are some limitations, however.
For widows who work outside of the home, their own widow’s benefit will be reduced by $1 for every $2 earned above $17,640 annually (2019). Since most women earn well above this threshold, the value of the widow’s own benefit is quickly lost.
That said, no matter a widow’s income, filing for the children’s benefit is a no-brainer. It’s found money. These benefits will continue for each child until s/he reaches 18(1) and will rarely be taxed.(3)
There is a maximum benefit that a family can receive, meaning that your combined benefit, widow’s plus children, is capped at 150-180% of the benefit the deceased father would have received at his FRA.
It’s important for widows to know that collecting survivors benefits now will not impact the amount you will ultimately collect in retirement benefits down the road – whether you plan to collect those retirement benefits on your deceased spouse’s earnings record or your own.
Widows must file for benefits in person at their local Social Security Administration office and should do so soon after their husband’s death. Once the application is processed, the Social Security Administration will pay benefits retroactive to the date the application was filed, not to the date of their husband’s death.
Social Security survivors benefits will not likely replace 100% of a late husband’s income, but they can provide valuable support in a widows transition.
(1)Or up 19 years, 2 months if still in high school full time
(2)67 for those born in 1960 or later
(3)The children’s benefits are only taxed if the children themselves have significant income – about $25k – from other sources