How to Calculate Social Security Survivor Benefits

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Social Security provides more than retirement benefits.
Social Security provides more than retirement benefits. (Image: Comstock/Comstock/Getty Images)

In addition to retirement benefits that Social Security offers, survivor benefits are also available to qualifying individuals. Social Security bases benefits on work history and calculates survivor benefits on the work history of the deceased and the relationship of the survivor to the deceased. Social Security uses full retirement age for benefits, and all calculations are a percentage of full retirement age. Workers born between 1943 and 1954 reach full retirement age at 66.

Things You'll Need

  • Social Security statement of deceased worker
  • Calculator

Locate a copy of the deceased worker’s Social Security statement. Social Security sends this form to the worker’s address once each year. The numbers on this form disclose 100 percent of the deceased worker’s estimated benefit at full retirement age.

Use the calculator to calculate the percentage of the full retirement age benefit to which you are entitled. Determine the percentage by your relationship to the deceased worker and your age.

Multiply 71.5 percent times the worker’s full retirement age benefit if you are the spouse or ex-spouse and are age 60 and unmarried. A disabled spouse can collect this same benefit at age 50.

Calculate 75 percent of the worker’s benefit if you are the spouse or ex-spouse caring for the worker’s child under age 16 or worker's disabled child.

Use the 100-percent figure if you are a qualifying spouse at full retirement age. You must not have remarried prior to age 60 to qualify.

Calculate 75 percent of the worker’s full-retirement age benefit if you are a child under the age of 18, or 19 if you are still in high school. Disabled children may also qualify for survivor benefits at 75 percent of the deceased worker's full-retirement-age benefit.

Contact Social Security if there are several recipients who qualify for benefits based on one deceased worker’s history. Social Security imposes a maximum benefit available that equals 150 to 180 percent of the full retirement age benefit. If many claimants apply, all benefits are reduced by a percentage to keep within the maximum.

Tips & Warnings

  • If the deceased worker took early retirement before reaching full retirement age, all calculations are based on the early retirement figure.
  • Other classes of beneficiaries exist, including parents of a deceased worker. The parents must be 62 or older and rely on the worker for at least half of their support at the time of death.
  • All calculations are estimates, since Social Security uses formulae and sophisticated computer programs to arrive at the most accurate figure possible.

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