Guide to Collecting Social Security Survivors Benefits

Compiled in January 2023

Legally Links is available to help surviving spouses and children. Please do not hesitate to reach out to

It’s important to note that even if you believe your spouse did not earn enough, if at all, to qualify you or your family for survivors benefits, our experience has shown there is often a good chance you may be eligible for benefits if you call to discuss your case with a Social Security representative.

Collecting survivors benefits is a simple, three-step process:

  1. Filing the claim (by phone)
  2. Filling out the application (by phone)
  3. Submitting original documents (by mail or in person) 

Social Security can be reached at 1-800-772-1213 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

Helpful Hints

💡Wait times are typically shorter earlier in the day (8:00-10:00 a.m.) and later in the afternoon (4:00-7:00 p.m.).

💡Social Security offices are typically less busy later in the week (Wednesday-Friday).

 ➡ It’s important to make the initial call (i.e., file the claim) as soon as possible, since survivors benefits begin to accrue from the date of the initial call.

➡ You can have a family member or a member of our staff with you on the call for support.

➡ Every part of this process—except providing documents at the very end—is currently done by phone. There are no email communications.

FILING THE CLAIM (initial phone call)

When you call, you’ll first hear a long, automated introduction. You’ll then be prompted to respond to the following:

  1. How can I help you?
  2. You’ll then be asked what you need help with, followed by a list of prompts.
    • Say “Apply for benefits” or press 1
  3. You’ll then be asked which service you’re applying for and told to pick from a list of possible responses.
    • Say “Social Security benefits” 
  4. You’ll then be asked if you already filed.
    • Respond, “No”

You’ll then be told that to apply for benefits, you need to speak to a representative. You’ll be put on hold until the next person is available to speak with you.

💡 The wait time may be anywhere between 20 minutes and an hour. Expect to be on hold for a while—both prior to reaching a representative and during your call. There will be music playing while you’re waiting for a representative, but once you reach a representative and they put you on hold, there will NOT be music. Don’t worry—you haven’t been disconnected—and do not hang up!

Once you reach a representative, if you have a family member or Legally Links staff member on the line with you, immediately inform the representative that you have someone on the line with you for support.

Be prepared to provide the following information:

✔ Your date of birth 

✔ Your Social Security number

✔ Your current home address

✔ Identifying information, such as where you were born and your mother’s maiden name

✔ The date and location of your marriage, as shown on your marriage certificate

✔ Your spouse’s date of birth

✔ Your spouse’s Social Security number

✔ The date and place of birth and Social Security numbers for each of your children

✔ The date your spouse was niftar and the location of death

You’ll be asked if you and your spouse were still married and living together at the time of death. Don’t worry if the answer to this question is no—it will NOT affect your children’s ability to get support.

At the conclusion of this call, you’ll either be given a date for your phone appointment or you’ll be told that someone from your local Social Security office will call you to give you an appointment date. Either way, you’ll have to provide a phone number by which you can reliably be reached. If your initial call takes place at the end of the month, you may be told that no appointments are left this month and instructed to call back at the beginning of next month. You can ask the representative to provide you with the number of your local office for the follow-up call.

Don’t be concerned if the date given for the second phone call is for a much later date. Benefits begin to accrue from the date of the initial call, regardless of when the second call takes place.


The second phone call is your official application. The Social Security representative will read the application to you and fill in the responses you provide. A separate application will be read and filled in for each child. You can expect it to take 15-20 minutes per application 

💡 At the time of your appointment, you must be ready and waiting by your phone. They may call a little late—don’t be alarmed if that happens—but you must still be there on time. It’s like waiting in a waiting room for an appointment, so be patient and stay by your phone. They generally call within an hour of your appointed time. 💡 Be prepared with the same information you provided for the first phone call. 

After filling in the application(s) you’ll be asked for the routing number of a bank account so the benefits can be automatically deposited. It can be a checking account with the parent’s name or a savings account with both the parent’s and children’s names.

  • Social Security will only do direct deposits. 
  • They do NOT mail checks. At the end of the call, you should be informed of your benefit amount.   

If you are a widow or widower over 60: 

If you are eligible for benefits yourself, you have a few options. You can choose to receive your own benefits, your spouse’s benefits, or to wait a little longer to collect on the benefits, which will result in your receiving a greater amount.

At the end of the second phone call, the representative may prompt you to pick which benefits you want to take. You don’t have to decide on the spot! Do NOT let the representative pressure you to decide right then, you can get back to them about which benefits you want to take. Once you choose an option, though, you cannot change your mind. 


Before you can collect your benefits, you must provide the following original documents:

✔ Marriage license

✔ Death certificate

✔ Birth certificates for whoever is receiving benefits

You can either mail your original documents to the Social Security office, where they’ll be photocopied and then mailed back to you, or you can go in person to your local office and have them photocopy your documents on the spot and hand them back to you. (We strongly recommend that you bring your documents in person, as people have had issues in the past with getting the originals back.)

Disclaimer: The contents of this article are for informational purposes only. Neither Zisel’s Links nor Legally Links offer legal, tax, financial, or investment advice. Readers are urged to consult with their own advisers before taking any actions based on the contents of this article.

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