Social Security: What Happens If I Die Before Collecting

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Social Security is a trust fund that is paid by those who work and funded for those who are currently retiring, not a retirement account or investment account that one owns and can therefore be passed down as property which one can own. 

This means if a person dies before they even start collecting the benefits, their family cannot retroactively collect their contributions that they made into the system for so long. That money has already been used to pay for the retirement of others. 

There are, however,  survivor benefits that are extended to certain members of a worker’s family that those family members can claim even if that person passed away before claiming Social Security. This can be a widow or widower, former spouse, dependent parents and children before certain ages and/or the disabled. 

According to the Social Security Administration, if you are working and paying into Social Security, some of those taxes you pay are already for survivors benefits.  The survivor benefit can be up to 100% of what the deceased would have been entitled to receive from Social Security if they lived long enough to claim benefits at full retirement age. Full retirement age is currently 66 and 2 months and will gradually reach 67.

The SSA states that widows and widowers can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60 or full benefits at full retirement age based on their spouse’s earning record. The SSA estimates that there are about four million widows and widowers receiving monthly Social Security benefits based on their deceased spouse’s earnings record. For many of those survivors, they say, those benefits help to provide the necessities of life.

Are You Retirement Ready?

If widows or widowers qualify for retirement benefits on their own record, they can switch to their own retirement benefit as early as age 62.For full information on how Social Security can help when a loved one dies, see their publication here.


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