What You Should Know About Social Security Survivor Benefits
If you’ve recently lost a loved one who had social security benefits, you may be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits (also referred to as Social Security death benefits). There are two types of survivor benefits:
- A lump-sum social security survivor benefit
- Ongoing monthly social security survivor benefits
What is the lump-sum social security survivor benefit?
A spouse of the deceased (who lived in the same household or was receiving certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record) is eligible to receive a one-time $255 social security benefit. If there is no eligible spouse, the payment can be made to an eligible dependent child. In most cases, this means the child is under 18; however, it can also apply to an unmarried child up to age 19 who is currently a full-time student in elementary or secondary school or who is over 18 and has a disability that began before age 22.
Spouses do not need to file an application in order to receive the benefit, but dependent children do. Note that the application must be filed within two years of the death in order to receive the benefit.
While a lump sum benefit of $255 might seem like a small amount of money, especially when compared to the $9,000 average cost of a funeral, it is still money that helps chip away at these unexpected costs. Applying for these benefits should be done in any case, since the funds won't be used otherwise.
What are the ongoing monthly Social Security survivor benefits?
Spouses over the age of 60 and dependents of deceased individuals with Social Security benefits may be eligible to receive ongoing monthly Social Security survivor benefits. Surviving spouses can usually expect to receive between 70% and 100% of what the deceased would have received at their full retirement age. Ex-spouses may also be eligible for ongoing benefits if you were married for at least 10 years, are age 60+ and you did not remarry before turning 60.
There are a few situations that can affect the benefits you receive as a surviving spouse. If you were married to the deceased for fewer than 9 months, you remarry before age 60, you continue to work, or you receive your own social security benefits that are greater than the amount you would receive as a survivor, it could reduce or negate your eligibility for survivor benefits.
If you believe you are eligible for ongoing survivor benefits, you should file an application within 6 months of the death, as no more than 6 months of payments can be made retroactively.
How do I apply for Social Security survivor benefits?
To report a death and/or apply for benefits, call the Social Security office at 1-800-772-1213 between 7am and 7pm Monday through Friday. For more information, visit the Social Security website.
You should apply for Social Security survivor benefits as soon as possible, since it can be potentially time consuming or frustrating, depending on how easily you can get connected with someone in the Social Security office. Since the only method of contact is by phone, be prepared to be on hold for some time.
What should I do with Social Security payments made to the deceased?
If the deceased was receiving Social Security payments at their time of death, you must return any payments made for the month of their death and any following months. If the payments were received via direct deposit, you should contact the bank and ask for them to be returned to Social Security. If your loved one received physical checks, avoid depositing any for the month of the death (or later), and return them them to the Social Security office.
If you've received your Social Security benefits and are still struggling to cover the enormous cost of a funeral, try reaching out to your community for help via a memorial fundraiser. Memorial fundraisers are quick to set up, efficient, and useful when collecting donations from your friends and family. Visitors to the site will be able to donate to your cause and connect with those who loved your loved one.