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Survivors benefits for green card holder

Green card with Social Security card © Leena Robinson/
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Dear Liz,
I’m 73. My wife is 48, and our child is 8. My wife is not a citizen yet, but she does have her green card. If something happens to me, will she receive my Social Security benefits? Will my child continue to get her Social Security?
— Niko

Dear Niko,
Many people don’t realize that the minor children of Social Security recipients can also receive benefits, as is the case with your daughter.

The child of a retired worker may receive 50 percent of what’s known as the “primary insurance amount,” or the benefit the worker would get at full retirement age. Benefits for children typically end at age 18 unless the child is still in high school. In that case, benefits end when she graduates or two months after she turns 19, whichever comes first.

Since your wife is in the U.S. legally, she also should be eligible for benefits based on your work record. Survivors benefits for a widow and daughter would depend on their ages at the time of your death.

Here’s how it works. Widows and widowers are normally entitled to full survivors benefits — equal to what you’re getting in retirement — if they’ve reached their own full retirement age. For your wife, that would be 67. Reduced survivors benefits are available as early as age 60 for widows.

If your daughter is under 16 at the time of your death, however, your wife also would be entitled to benefits regardless of her age. Surviving spouses who care for children receiving benefits are eligible for their own benefit, although the total amount a family can receive is capped. The amount your daughter would receive as a survivor typically would increase to 75 percent of your primary insurance amount.

If your wife has worked and paid Social Security taxes for 10 years or more, she also may qualify for benefits based on her own work record. If that’s the case, then you (and your daughter) could qualify for survivors benefits should she die first. You wouldn’t be able to receive both your current benefit and your survivors benefit, though. You’d typically receive the larger of the two.

For more details, contact your local Social Security office or call the national toll-free number at 1 (800) 772-1213. You can also find out more information at

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