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How to Collect Death Benefits After Someone Dies

Death benefits can be a massive help to families who are struggling after losing someone, especially if they were dependent on the deceased. Whether you are a spouse, parent, grandkid, child, or stepchild, you may be eligible for benefits. Some forms of Social Security survivor benefits are paid out in a one-time payment and others are paid out monthly and can last a lifetime. For more information on Social Security death benefits, you can also check out the article, What You Should Know About Social Security Survivor Benefits.

What are survivor benefits?

Survivor benefits are funds that are paid out by Social Security to survivors of someone who has passed away in the form of both monthly payments (if eligible) and a one time lump sum payment of $255. It is critical to contact Social Security as soon as possible to ensure you initiate the application process and can receive any benefits owed to you. You cannot apply for survivor benefits online, you’ll instead need to call Social Security at 1-800-772-1213.

Lump sum payment

The one-time lump sum payment of $255 is paid out to the surviving spouse if the surviving spouse was living with the deceased. If the surviving spouse was living apart, they might still be able to get the one-time payment, but restrictions apply. You’ll need to apply and set an appointment with a representative first in order to determine your eligibility if you fall under this category.

If there is no surviving spouse, the lump sum payment can be paid out to an eligible child who was on the deceased’s record during the month the death occurred.

Though the lump sum survivor payment is a smaller amount when compared to the large costs of funeral expenses, $255 can still help you towards your goals.

Who is entitled to death benefits from Social Security?

In addition to the one time lump sum payment, eligible family members can also receive additional benefits in the form of monthly payments. You can always check your eligibility by calling Social Security or by checking this eligibility list. This includes:

  • Widows or widowers who are 60 or older
  • Widows or widowers who are disabled and are 50 or older
  • Widows and widowers who are parenting the deceased’s child, if the child is under 16 or they’re disabled
  • A single (unmarried) child of the deceased who is younger than 18 (or under 19 if they’re a full time student), older than 18 (with a disability that occurred before the age of 22)
  • Under certain situations and circumstances, stepchildren, stepgrandchildren, grandchildren, or adopted children may be entitled to benefits
  • Parents who are over the age of 62 who depended on the deceased for at least 50% of their support
  • Surviving spouses who are divorced, under specific circumstances

How much money would survivors receive monthly?

If you qualify to receive monthly payments by qualifying in one of the categories listed above, the amount of money you receive will depend on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased. Survivors of higher earners will receive more money in survivor benefits. The amount of funds you’ll receive depend on the earnings of the deceased and the category you fall into, explore this in a breakdown below:

  • Widows or widowers who are at least full retirement age or older will earn 100% of the benefit amount.
  • Widows or widowers who are at least 60, but not yet at full retirement age will earn 71.5% - 99% of the basic amount.
  • Disabled widows or widowers who are 50-59 years old will earn 71.5%.
  • Widows or widowers (at any age) who are caring for children who are 16 years old or younger will earn 71.5%.
  • A child who is 18 or younger (or 19 if they’re still a full-time student) or disabled will earn 75%.
  • Dependent parents who are at least 62 years old will earn 82.5% (if it’s a single parent) and 75% to each parent (if there are two surviving parents).

You can see an estimate of what kind of benefits your family can expect by using this calculator provided by Social Security.

How long do you get survivor benefits for?

Social Security survivor benefits last for life if you are a widow or widower (who does not remarry) or if you are the parents of the deceased that received at least 50% of your support from the deceased.

Children who are receiving Social Security survivor benefits will generally stop receiving those benefits at the age of 18. This is extended for children who are full time students, who will stop receiving benefits at the age of 19. Children who get married will stop receiving benefits in almost all cases.

What percentage of Social Security benefits does a widow receive?

Widows and widowers will receive a different percentage depending on their age. Widows or widowers who are full retirement age or older will earn 100% of the benefit amount. Widows or widowers who are at least 60 but not yet full retirement age will earn 71.5% - 99% of the basic amount.

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How do I apply for Social Security death benefits?

To apply for Social Security death benefits, you’ll need to speak with a Social Security representative by calling 1-800-772-1213 between 8:00 AM - 5:30, M-F. You cannot apply for Social Security death benefits online so be wary and vigilant around any type of emails, websites, or offers you get to apply for these benefits online. Social Security only accepts application over the phone.

Children who are applying for Social Security death benefits will also need to apply by phone.

Additional death benefits for veterans

Death benefits for veterans will depend on if the death was service related or non-service related. The benefits are reimbursed, so you’ll need to cover expenses up front and expect to be reimbursed down the line. For a full list of eligibility requirements and for a current and up to date allowance number, visit the VA’s site.

Service related

Service related deaths have up to $2,000 towards burial expenses for deaths that occurred on or after 9/11/01. If the body was buried in a national VA cemetery, you might also be entitled to reimbursement for transportation fees.

Non-service related

For non-service related deaths, the VA will cover up to $796 of burial and funeral expenses for deaths that occurred on or after 10/1/2019, so long as the veteran was hospitalized by the VA at the time of death. If the veteran was not hospitalized by the VA at the time of death, the VA will pay up to $300 towards burial and funeral expenses with an additional $796 plot allowance if the veteran is not buried at a national cemetery. The VA will increase burial and plot allowances annually, so it’s always good to check the current allowances.

To apply for VA Benefits related to a veteran’s death, you can:

  1. Apply online.
  2. Find a representative and work with them in person.
  3. Turn in your application at a local regional benefit office.
  4. Complete the application and mail it to your VA pension management center.

In general, Social Security death benefits can be immensely helpful to survivors, especially to those who were dependent on the deceased. Applying for death benefits can be a process, so it’s important that you get in touch with Social Security as soon as possible to get started. Even if you’re not eligible for monthly benefits, you could still be eligible for the one-time lump sum payment which will help you cover unexpected funeral expenses. If you find that you don’t qualify for any survivor benefits, or that the survivor benefits won’t be enough to cover expenses, starting a memorial fundraiser is a quick and easy way to raise funds to cover unexpected costs.

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Last updated February 25, 2022
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