As if you did not have enough things to manage when your loved one dies, you also must notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) right away, unless the funeral home does it for you. Some people mistakenly assume that if the checks keep coming, they can use the money for things like paying the funeral and burial costs or paying off the debts of the deceased. The SSA will demand that money back and can even take legal action against you. Therefore, here are steps to take when a Social Security beneficiary dies.
Who to Contact
Call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (the TTY line is 1-800-325-0778 for deaf or hard of hearing) to notify them of your loved one’s death and to get his benefits checks stopped. Also contact the bank and ask them to return to the SSA any money from Social Security beginning the month after the death. The bank will require a certified death certificate from your local vital statistics bureau. Keep the decedent’s bank account open for at least two months, and return to the SSA any uncashed checks you receive on his behalf.
Social Security Giveth, Social Security Taketh Away
When a Social Security beneficiary dies, Social Security will pay a lump-sum death benefit of $255 to the eligible surviving spouse or child. The payment is not automatic. You must apply for it.
The SSA will also take away the last Social Security benefit payment your deceased loved one received. A person must be alive the entire month to be eligible for the monthly Social Security check. The SSA does not pro-rate benefits checks. The SSA treats a person who dies on the 5th day of the month the same as someone who dies on the 29th day of the month, although the person who lived until the 29th had 24 more days of living expenses than the other person.
Social Security checks are for the previous month’s expenses, not the current month. The check you get in February is for your January expenses. If a person dies on February 8, for example, her survivors must return the check they receive in March, since she did not live through the entire month of February.
Besides the one-time death benefit, you may be eligible for survivors’ benefits when your loved one dies. Contact the SSA to see if you or other family members are eligible. Under certain circumstances, these family members may be entitled to a monthly benefits check:
- Widow or widower who is age 60 or older
- Disabled widow or widower who is age 50 or older
- Widow or widower regardless of age, if serving as a caregiver for a disabled or under age 16 child of the deceased
- Disabled child of the deceased
- Child of the deceased who is age 18 or 19
- Stepchild, adopted child, grandchild or step-grandchild
- Surviving divorced spouse
- Parents of the deceased, if they are 62 years old or older and the deceased provided at least half of their support
Your local elder law attorney can give you a handy checklist of things you must do when your loved one dies. Since the laws are different in every state, talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
Social Security Administration. “How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies.” (accessed October 23, 2017) https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10008.pdf
Social Security Administration. “Survivors Benefits.” (accessed October 23, 2017) https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10084.pdf
Social Security Administration. “Survivors Planner: How You Apply.” (accessed October 23, 2017) https://www.ssa.gov/planners/survivors/howtoapply.html