Dear Unexpectedly Widowed: We are deeply saddened to learn of your wife’s death; please accept our heartfelt sympathies. Here’s a rundown of everything you should know about Social Security:
Your wife’s minor children will all be entitled for a survivor payment based on the Social Security benefit amount your wife earned up until the month she died. Children can get survivor benefits until they reach the age of eighteen.
The typical minor child benefit amount is 75 percent of your wife’s “primary insurance amount” (or PIA, which is the benefit she had earned until she died), but the Family Maximum will apply because there will be three children receiving.
Total survivor payments are limited to between 150 and 180 percent of your wife’s PIA under the Family Maximum. With three survivors, the Family Maximum should be around 175% of your wife’s PIA.
These figures will be determined by Social Security when you apply for child benefits, which you may do by calling 1.800.772.1213 or making an appointment at your local SS field office (locator at www.ssa.gov/locator).
The funeral home that handled your wife’s arrangements will send a copy of her death certificate to Social Security, but you’ll very certainly need to supply each child’s Social Security number and birth certificate, as well as your wife’s death certificate if they want it.
As each of your children reaches the age where they are no longer eligible for minor child benefits, the benefit for the remaining minor children will automatically increase, up to a maximum of 75 percent of your wife’s PIA.
You will be required to act as their Representative Payee because your children are minors.
When you call Social Security to apply for benefits for the children, they will walk you through the process, but it effectively means that their payments will be sent directly to you, and you will be compelled to spend that money on behalf of the children. The Representative Payee rules can be found at www.ssa.gov/payee/.
As your wife’s surviving husband with minor children, you may be eligible for a “child in care” surviving spouse benefit until the youngest child turns 16, regardless of your age. However, you should be aware of the following:
Because of your salary, you will most likely be disqualified for child-in-care spouse benefits if you work full time. Early spousal or survivor benefits are subject to an earnings limit imposed by Social Security.
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Because of the Family Maximum stated above, if you are eligible for child-in-care benefits and receive them, it will reduce the benefit amount each of your children will receive.
In other words, the Family Maximum Amount (which Social Security will calculate based on your wife’s PIA) is the maximum amount that can be paid out on your wife’s record, regardless of how many survivors are receiving benefits.
You will also be eligible to a one-time lump sum death payment of $255 as your wife’s spouse, which you can seek when you speak with Social Security. Please accept our heartfelt condolences on the passing of your wife. I hope the information provided above is useful during this tough time.