Brenner answers questions about all aspects of family finance.
A friend of mine died suddenly last month, leaving a 48-year-old widow and three children; the oldest is 18. My friend paid the maximum in Social Security taxes every year. Are his widow and kids entitled to Social Security survivor benefits? If so, will their benefits be reduced because his widow has a job?
The children are entitled to collect survivors' benefits up to age 19, based on their father's work record, if still in high school. Their mother's earnings have no impact on these survivor benefits.
Each child is entitled to receive 75 percent of their father's Primary Insurance Amount, or PIA -- the amount he would have collected at his full retirement age -- up to a family maximum.
This maximum is generally 150 percent to 180 percent of the deceased worker's PIA.
If the PIA is $2,400 a month, for example, the family maximum would be about $3,600; each of the three kids would receive $1,200 a month.
The 18-year-old's benefit will stop when she graduates from high school. Then the two younger children can both begin collecting a full 75 percent benefit without exceeding the family maximum. (In my example, they'd each get $1,800.)
Their mother is too young to qualify for a widow's benefit; the earliest you can receive that is age 60. She can claim a benefit as a widow caring for children younger than age 16; but in this case, that claim may not provide any additional income. First, it's subject to reduction based on her annual earnings; in 2013, she'd forfeit $1 of benefit for each $2 she earns over $15,120. And second, her benefit as a widow caring for minor kids is subject to the family maximum limit.
The bottom line Minor children are entitled to a Social Security benefit based on their deceased parent's work record.
Websites with more information 1.usa.gov/15BsZOp and 1.usa.gov/18dTBpB
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