If you have earned at least six Social Security credits during the 13 calendar quarters ending with the calendar quarter of death, eligible family members may qualify for survivor’s benefits. In other words, if you worked about 1½ years of the previous 3¼ years where you paid Social Security taxes on your earnings, your survivors are eligible for benefits.
Generally, a surviving spouse at full retirement age is eligible to receive 100 percent of your primary insurance amount. The earliest age to receive a benefit as a surviving spouse without eligible children is 60. A reduction factor is applied if the surviving spouse receives benefits prior to full retirement age. If your surviving spouse is younger than 61 and caring for an eligible child under the age 16 or a child who is disabled, your spouse should be able to receive 75 percent of your primary insurance amount.
Eligible children, generally, qualify for 75 percent of a deceased parent’s primary insurance amount. An eligible child must be under age 18 or age 19 if still enrolled in high school. If the child becomes disabled before the age of 22, the child can collect benefits on your earnings record at any age. If both parents are deceased, the child cannot claim benefits on both parents’ earnings records. The child receives the larger benefit for which he is entitled.
Additionally, dependent parents older than 62 may be eligible to receive 82½ percent of your primary insurance amount. A dependent parent must receive at least 50 percent of their support from you to qualify for a survivor’s benefit. It is not uncommon for families to claim a dependent parent on their tax return. Should a breadwinner of the family die, this could be a benefit worth considering.
Unfortunately, the Social Security Administration will limit the amount of benefits a family may receive based on the earnings record of one worker. The actual calculation for the maximum family benefit is very complicated. Various percentages are applied to the primary insurance amount to determine a family’s limit.
Therefore, if a father were to die, leaving behind his dependent mother, his wife and three children, each person’s benefit will likely be adjusted so the total amount the family receives does not exceed the family maximum. As each child reaches the age of 18 or graduates from high school, the benefits for each eligible survivor is recalculated based upon the remaining family members eligible for benefits, likely resulting in higher amounts. Keep in mind, survivors who are under full retirement age are subject to the earnings limit. In 2013, individuals face reductions of $1 for every $2 earned above $15,120.