published Thursday, July 7th, 2011

Social Security: Who may receive survivor benefits?

By Martin Coffey

Q: When a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, who is eligible for survivors benefits?”

A: Social Security survivors benefits can be paid to:

* Widows or widowers — full benefits at full retirement age, or reduced benefits as early as age 60;

* Disabled widows or widowers — as early as age 50;

* Widows or widowers at any age if they take care of the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving Social Security benefits;

* Unmarried children under 18, or up to age 19 if they are attending high school full time. Under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children;

* Children at any age who were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled;

* Dependent parents age 62 or older.

Even if you are divorced, you still may qualify for survivors benefits based on the earnings record of a former spouse. For more information, go to

Q: What is a Social Security “credit”?

A: During your working years, earnings covered by Social Security are posted to your record. You earn Social Security credits based on those earnings.

The amount of earnings needed for one credit rises as average earnings levels rise.

In 2011, you receive one credit for each $1,120 of earnings. You can earn up to a maximum of four credits a year.

Most people will need a minimum of 40 credits (or 10 years of work) to be eligible for retirement benefits.

Learn more by reading the online publication How You Earn Credits at

Q: What is the purpose of Supplemental Security Income, or SSI?

A: SSI is designed to help aged, blind and disabled people who have little income and few resources.

It provides financial assistance to meet basic needs for food, clothing and shelter.

You can receive SSI even if you have not worked and paid into Social Security. SSI is a federal income supplement program funded by general tax revenues (not Social Security taxes).

Find out more at

Get answers to your Social Security questions each Thursday from Social Security District Director Martin Coffey. Submit questions by writing to Business Editor Dave Flessner, Chattanooga Times Free Press, P.O. Box 1447, Chattanooga, TN 37401-1447, or by emailing him at

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