The Social Security Administration pays retirement benefits to workers who have paid into the system over the years through payroll deductions. You can begin collecting Social Security benefits at age 62, but if you delay benefits until your full retirement age, you can collect a larger monthly amount. If you die while drawing Social Security, your benefits will cease, but your survivors might be entitled to receive benefits based on your work history instead of their own.
While your Social Security benefits end when you die, your spouse or dependent children may be eligible for survivors benefits.
Social Security Payments
Although you might have paid a substantial amount into Social Security, the agency does not keep your money in an individual account in the same way as a bank or pension plan keeps a savings account. As long as you remain alive, you continue drawing benefits based on your work record and how much you've earned over your lifetime. When you die, the benefits cease – there is no accrued balance that is paid out to your estate or to your survivors. Social Security does not pay benefits for the month of your death.
If you die with an eligible spouse or dependent children, Social Security will pay survivors benefits to them. The amount of a survivor's benefit is based on several factors, most importantly the age at which you began drawing Social Security. Full retirement age is based on the year of your birth, and varies from 65 to 67 years of age. If you've waited until full retirement age to begin collecting benefits, your survivors might be eligible for the same benefit as you were receiving.
Early Retirement and Survivors
If you drew early retirement, your survivor is eligible for the reduced benefit that Social Security was paying you. Your survivor must be at his or her full retirement age when you die, however, to draw 100 percent of your benefit amount. If your survivor has not reached full retirement age, Social Security reduces the survivor's benefit.
Benefits for Younger Survivors
Social Security makes survivor's benefits available to people as young as age 60. The minimum age falls to 50 if the survivor is ruled disabled by Social Security. The agency reduces the amount of the benefit for each month remaining until the survivor reaches his or her full retirement age, however. That amount does not increase as the survivor ages – it remains the same for the duration of the survivor's life.
Uncollected Social Security
In some cases, workers eligible for Social Security die before collecting any benefits. In this situation, their survivors are also able to collect a full benefit, as long as they wait until full retirement age. The amount is based on whatever the deceased workers' full benefit would have been. The minimum age requirements still apply, and the amount would be reduced for survivors who take the benefit before reaching their full retirement age.
Founder/president of the innovative reference publisher The Archive LLC, Tom Streissguth has been a self-employed business owner, independent bookseller and freelance author in the school/library market. Holding a bachelor's degree from Yale, Streissguth has published more than 100 works of history, biography, current affairs and geography for young readers.