There Are Rules for Social Security When Someone Dies

Benjamin LongSocial Security, Survivor Benefits

The Importance of Reporting a Death to Social Security

“When a loved one passes away, there are usually various arrangements that need to be made. One of the tasks to oversee will involve reporting the death to the Social Security Administration.”

Notifying Social Security about a death is one of a handful of must-do’s shortly after a loved one dies. If this task is not done promptly, says U.S. News & World Report in the recent article titled “How to Report a Death to Social Security,” then there may be problems and extra work in the future.

Here are the four steps that need to take place.

Consequences of Failing to Notify Social Security

Report the death to the Social Security Administration. The funeral director might offer to do this. However, it may be best if the family does it, so you don’t have to share the decedent’s Social Security information.

Steps to Report a Death to the Social Security Administration

Contacting the SSA Directly or Through Local Office

You can call the SSA directly or contact the local Social Security office. This cannot be done online. It must be done on the phone.

Required Information for Reporting a Death

You will need the decedent’s complete date of birth and their Social Security number.

Understanding Social Security Payments and Death

No Grace Period or Partial Payments

Review Social Security payments. Social Security benefits arrive the month after the month to which they apply. For example, a February benefit will arrive in March, the March benefit arrives in April, and so on. However, the day that a person dies, those benefits stop on that day. There’s no such thing as a grace period or partial payment for the month.

Handling Checks Received for Deceased's Month of Death

If the person dies during March, they won’t be eligible to get benefits for March. They will receive benefits for February, but not for March. It doesn’t matter if they die on the last day in the month or on the first day.

What if you receive a check for the month the person died? Mail the check back to the Social Security Administration. Keep the person’s bank account open, if the deposit is made directly to the account to allow the SSA to retrieve the last payment.

One-Time Social Security Death Benefit

What if you receive a check for the month the person died? Mail the check back to the Social Security Administration. Keep the person’s bank account open, if the deposit is made directly to the account to allow the SSA to retrieve the last payment.

Eligibility for the $255 One-Time Payment

What about the one-time SS death benefit? Once the death has been reported, there may be a one-time death benefit of $255, sent to the surviving spouse, if they were living with the deceased. If the surviving spouse was living separately but is still eligible for benefits on the deceased’s record, the one-time payment may still be sent.

Family Members' Eligibility for Social Security Benefits

If there is no surviving spouse, the death benefit can be sent to a child who is eligible for benefits based on the deceased’s record.

Arranging benefits for family members from Social Security. Depending upon the circumstances, family members may still be eligible to receive benefits. There will be paperwork. The best advice? Don’t delay, as when you apply will impact when benefits begin. Here are the family members who may be eligible for benefits after a death:

Eligible Surviving Spouses

  • A disabled widow or widower age 50 and older
  • A widow or widower age 60 or older
  • A widow or widower of any age caring for a child of the deceased under age 16, who is also disabled.

Eligible Children and Other Dependents

  • An unmarried child of the deceased younger than 18, or 19 if they are a full-time student in elementary or secondary school
  • A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild or adopted child in certain circumstances
  • An unmarried child with a disability that began before age 22
  • Parents who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support who are at least 62

Surviving Divorced Spouses in Certain Cases

A surviving divorced spouse, but only in certain circumstances

Navigating Benefit Options for Surviving Spouses

Combining Survivor's and Own Benefits Strategically

The surviving spouse has several options regarding how and when to take which benefits. For instance, the surviving spouse may be able to apply for their own benefit plus a survivor’s benefit, but not at the same time. For instance, it may make sense to take a survivor’s benefit for several years and delay taking your own benefit, and then later take the surviving spouse’s own SS benefits when they are larger.
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