Dear Savvy Senior, Who qualifies for Social Security survivor benefits? My ex-husband died last year, so I would like to find out if me or my 17-year-old daughter are eligible for anything? — Divorced Survivor

Dear Divorced, If your ex-husband worked and paid Social Security taxes and you and/or your daughter meet the eligibility requirements, you very well could be eligible for survivor benefits, but you should act quickly because benefits generally are retroactive only up to six months. Here’s what you should know.

Under Social Security law, when a person who has worked and paid Social Security taxes dies, certain members of that person’s family could be eligible for survivor benefits including spouses, former spouses and dependents. Here’s a breakdown of who qualifies.

Widow(er)s and divorced widow(er)s: Surviving spouses who were married at least nine months are eligible to collect a monthly survivor benefit as early as age 60 (50 if disabled). Divorced surviving spouses also are eligible at this same age, if you were married at least 10 years and did not remarry before age 60 (50 if disabled), unless the marriage ends.

How much you’ll receive will depend on how much money (earnings that were subject to Social Security taxes) your spouse or ex-spouse made during their lifetime, and the age in which you apply for survivor benefits.

If you wait until your full retirement age (which is 66 for people born in 1945-54 and gradually will increase to 67 for people born in 1960 or later), you’ll receive 100 percent of your deceased spouses or ex-spouses benefit amount. But if you apply between age 60 and your full retirement age, your benefit will be somewhere between 71.5 to 99 percent of their benefit.

There is, however, one exception. Surviving spouses and ex-spouses who are caring for a child (or children) of the deceased worker, and they are younger than 16 or disabled, are eligible to receive 75 percent of the worker’s benefit amount at any age.

Unmarried children: Surviving unmarried children younger than 18, or up to age 19 if they’re still attending high school, are eligible for survivor benefits, too. Benefits also can be paid to children at any age if they were disabled before age 22 and remain disabled. Both biological and adoptive children are eligible, as well as kids born out of wedlock. Dependent stepchildren and grandchildren also might qualify. Children’s benefits are 75 percent of the worker’s benefit.

You also should know in addition to survivor benefits, a surviving spouse or child could be eligible to receive a special lump-sum death payment of $255.

Dependent parents: Benefits also can be paid to dependent parents who are age 62 and older. For parents to qualify as dependents, the deceased worker would have had to provide at least one-half of the parent’s financial support.

But be aware Social Security has limits on how much a family can receive in monthly survivors’ benefits — usually 150 to 180 percent of the worker’s benefit.

Switching strategies

Social Security also provides surviving spouses and ex-spouses some nice strategies that can help boost your benefits. For example, if you’ve worked, you could take a reduced survivor benefit at age 60 and switch to your own retirement benefit based on your earnings history — between 62 and 70 — if it offers a higher payment.

Or, if you already are receiving retirement benefits on your work record, you could switch to survivors benefits if it offers a higher payment. You cannot, however, receive both benefits.

You also need to know if you collect a survivor benefit while working and are younger than full retirement age, your benefits could be reduced depending on your earnings. Go to

For more information on survivor benefits, go to

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or go to Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC “Today” show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.