Who gets your social security if you die tomorrow?

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Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared on The Penny Hoarder.

Most of us never see the first 6.2% of our paychecks. This money goes directly to Social Security, with the main purpose of one day paying you a monthly retirement benefit.

What if you die suddenly tomorrow? What happens to all that money you put into the system?

First, let’s address a common misconception: Social Security doesn’t set aside money in an account for you. Your payroll taxes fund the Social Security Trust. Once you qualify, you receive benefits from the trust. But the Social Security Administration doesn’t have any money with your name on it.

When you die, your Social Security payments will stop. If you die before you start receiving benefits, you will not receive the money you paid.

But sometimes someone else may receive Social Security benefits based on your record. This is the case with spousal benefits, ex-spouse benefits and survivor benefits. Another person may be able to receive a Social Security benefit based on your benefit, but they are not taking your Social Security.

If you have a spouse, ex-spouse or dependents, they may be able to use your file to qualify for survivor benefits upon your death. Here’s who gets what.

If you have never been married and have no dependents

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No one will receive survivor benefits based on your record if you never married and have no children or other dependents.

The money you contributed is simply part of the Social Security Trust. It will be used to pay other Social Security obligations.

If you are married

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Your spouse will be eligible for survivor benefits when they turn 60 (or 50 if disabled) if you have been married for at least nine months and have not remarried.

However, they will only receive the survivor benefit if it is greater than their own social security benefit. In other words, Social Security will give them the greater of the two benefits, but not both.

Their benefit depends on:

  • If you had started receiving benefits at the time of your death: If you die before you begin to receive benefits, your spouse’s benefit will be based on your primary insurance amount. This is the benefit you are entitled to full retirement age. But if you die after you start your Social Security, your spouse’s benefit is based on your benefit. For example, if you claimed Social Security at age 62, but your full retirement age was 67, your monthly checks would be one-third lower. Your spouse’s benefit would be based on this lower amount.
  • How long your spouse is waiting: If your spouse applies for survivor benefits before full retirement age, they will receive between 71.5% and 99% of your benefit – your primary insurance amount if you had not yet started or your benefit real if you had.

If you leave behind a spouse who takes care of your child aged 16 or under or who is disabled, they will receive 75% of your benefit, regardless of their age.

If you are divorced

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Ex-spouses are generally entitled to the same survivor benefits as current spouses, provided they have been married for at least 10 years and have been divorced for two years.

If you have remarried and your ex-spouse is applying for survivor benefits based on your record, this will not affect your current spouse’s benefits.

If you have minor children

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Children can get 75% of your benefit, provided they are unmarried, up to the age of 18 (or 19, if still in high school). This is in addition to the 75% that your current or ex-spouse may receive to care for your child.

However, Social Security has a maximum child allowance of 150% to 180% of your primary insurance amount.

So if you die tomorrow and are survived by your spouse and four children under 16, they will still only get 150% to 180% of your benefit.

If you have adult children

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Your children who are over 18 (or 19 if still in high school) will not be eligible for survivor benefits. The exception: if they are at least 22 years old, unmarried, and have a disability that began before age 18, they can receive 75% of your benefit.

If your parents are dependent on you

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If a relative is dependent on you, that is, you provide at least half of their support, they may be eligible for survivor benefits. They will only be eligible if you are 62 or older at the time of your death. They can get up to 75% of your benefit amount, but only if the survivor benefit is greater than their own benefit.

Are survivor benefits sufficient?

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Survivor benefits can certainly help your loved ones after your death, but they are not enough to protect your family, especially if you have young children. A Value Penguin survey found that survivor benefits would leave a widowed spouse to care for two children with an average monthly shortfall of $2,695.

If you have loved ones who depend on you, life insurance is essential. A common guideline is to buy enough life insurance to cover 10 times your annual income. However, that may not be enough if you have kids you want to pay for college or if you and your spouse have significant debt.

It is also essential to have a will and keep it up to date. If you have a 401(k) plan or an Individual Retirement Account (IRA), be sure to review your listed beneficiaries at least once a year. The registrant(s) will receive the money, regardless of your will instructions.

The money you paid into Social Security can help your loved ones if you die tomorrow. But be realistic. If you have dependents, survivor benefits alone probably won’t be enough.

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