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Malti Patel

Q. What are the requirements for a survivor to receive Social Security benefits?

A. In order to receive survivor’s benefits, the deceased worker must have earned the required number of Social Security credits and survivors must meet the following requirements:

A widow or widower may be able to receive full benefits at age 65 if born before 1940. (The age to receive full benefits is gradually increasing to age 67 for widows and widowers born in 1940 or later.) Reduced widow or widower benefits can be received as early as age 60. If the surviving spouse is disabled, benefits can begin as early as age 50.

A widow or widower can receive benefits at any age if she or he takes care of the deceased worker's child who is entitled to a child's benefit and is younger than age 16 or disabled.

A deceased worker's unmarried children who are younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are attending elementary or secondary school full time) also can receive benefits. Children can get benefits at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Under certain circumstances, benefits also can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.

A deceased worker's dependent parents can receive benefits if they are age 62 or older. (For parents to qualify as dependents, the deceased worker would have had to provide at least one-half of their support.)

A deceased worker's former wife or husband who is age 60 or older (as early as age 50 if disabled) can get benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. A former spouse, however, does not have to meet the age or length-of-marriage rule if he or she is caring for his/her child who is younger than age 16 or who is disabled and also entitled based on the deceased worker's work. The child must be the deceased worker's former spouse's natural or legally adopted child.

Q. When a Social Security beneficiary dies, does the funeral home notify Social Security or is notification up to the family?

A. Many funeral directors voluntarily provide death information directly to Social Security. But, family members of a deceased individual still have the legal responsibility to notify Social Security.

Q. Will a child age 19 and attending college/trade school still be eligible to receive survivor’s benefits?

A. No. To receive benefits, the child must be unmarried; under age 18; or 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12); 18 or older and disabled from a disability that started before age 22. Normally, benefits stop when children reach age 18 unless they are disabled. However, if the child is still a full-time student at a secondary (or elementary) school at age 18, benefits generally can continue until the child graduates or until two months after the child becomes age 19, whichever is first.

Q. How long must you be married to a spouse to collect benefits when the spouse dies?

A. Generally, a person can qualify for widow's or widower's benefits if he or she was married to the deceased worker for at least nine months just before the worker died. However, you do not need to be married to the worker for any specific length of time if:

You are the biological parent of the worker's biological child;

You legally adopted the worker’s child while you were married to him or her and before the child attained age 18;

If the worker could not reasonably have been expected to live for nine months at the time you married him or her, then you cannot qualify for survivor benefits.

Q. How much is a working widow allowed to earn without losing any Social Security widow's benefits?

A. The law that determines what happens when you work and get benefits at the same time was changed, effective January 2000. This change in law applies to widow(er)s as well as retired workers. While you're working, your benefit amount will be reduced only until you reach your full retirement age. Full retirement age for earnings test purposes is age 65 and 8 months for persons born 1/2/41 through 1/1/42.

These questions and answers are courtesy of Malti Patel, 1607 Wood Creek Lane, Allen, Texas-75002. She can be reached at (469) 675-0972.

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