Tens of millions of Americans use Social Security benefits to cover their living expenses. Most of the people using the program understand very well that their retirement benefits hinge largely on their work history, marking a successful end to a long career.

But Social Security isn't always easy to understand. It has a lot of lesser-known aspects that can provide benefits in some surprising situations. If you don't know about these hidden provisions, you might never even claim benefits you have coming to you.

Below, you'll learn more about some of the rules that many would-be Social Security  claimants don't know about. By finding out about them, you'll put yourself in a better position to get everything you've earned under the Social Security program.

1. Early benefits for widows and widowers

Most people think of Social Security benefits as starting at age 62. That's the earliest age at which workers can claim their own retirement benefits, and spousal benefits are also available starting at age 62 if the claimant's spouse has already claimed retirement benefits.

However, survivor benefits that a surviving spouse are available at earlier ages. For most people, a survivor benefit becomes available at age 60, which is two full years before your own retirement benefit would be available. Those who are disabled can make survivor benefit claims even earlier -- as early as age 50.

Moreover, you're able to claim your survivor benefit independently of your retirement benefit. In some cases, that can allow you to start getting money from Social Security through a survivor benefit but delay claiming your own worker benefit, boosting the size of those monthly checks once you do claim them in the future.

Wedding cake with figurines facing away from each other.

Image source: Getty Images.

2. Spousal benefits for divorced couples

A lot of people think that spousal benefits are only available to current spouses. However, the general rule is that if you were married for at least 10 years before getting divorced, you're potentially entitled to claim spousal benefits based on an ex-spouse's work history.

The other thing to remember is that if you get married to someone else, you will lose your eligibility for spousal benefits based on your ex-spouse's work history. Yet those benefits can get restored if you subsequently become single again, either due to divorce or death of your most recent spouse.

3. A modest-sized lump sum benefit after death

One of the oddest provisions in the rules governing Social Security provides for a very small death benefit under certain circumstances. When someone passes away, a one-time payment fixed at $255 is available to eligible recipients.

What makes this complicated is the list of those who are eligible to get the $255 death benefit. Most surviving spouses qualify, but adult children of the Social Security recipient generally don't. Only those children who are receiving Social Security or are eligible to get ongoing benefits after the death of the parent can get the $255 lump sum. Most commonly, those children have to be either under 18, still in high school, or disabled in order to qualify.

Make sure you know about your Social Security

The best way to find out about all your potential Social Security benefits is by signing up to receive your Social Security statement. Creating an account is simple and gives you access to resources that will help you estimate your future monthly payments.

In the end, though, you're responsible for knowing about the Social Security benefits that the law gives you. Hopefully, knowing about the three less common benefits described above will help put a little extra money into your pocket during your retirement years.