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Social Security Death Benefits: Collecting Social Security Benefits After a Family Member’s Death


Did you know you could qualify for Social Security death benefits if your spouse or another loved one passes away?

The loss of a family member can be devastating, both emotionally and financially.  Social Security is meant to be a survivor program as well as a retirement program.  Most people are aware of Social Security retirement benefits, and many may even be aware that Social Security has disability benefits, but are you aware that there are Social Security death benefits as well?  In this article we will discuss the one-time lump sum death benefit, monthly survivor benefits, who qualifies for survivor benefits, and how to apply for benefits when a family member dies.

One-Time Death Benefit:

You may receive a one time payment of $255 when a family member dies, depending on your relationship to them and how long they have worked.  Generally, only surviving spouses and children of deceased workers qualify for the one-time death benefit.  In addition, the deceased family member must have worked long enough to be insured under Social Security, but it doesn’t matter if they were already collecting Social Security or not.

The death benefit payment is made to the surviving spouse living with the deceased person at the time he/she passed, or if there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to a child of the deceased person.  Spouses who are not living together when one spouse dies may still receive the death benefit if they were eligible for benefits on the deceased spouse’s earnings in the month the spouse passed.  If there is no surviving spouse or child who qualifies for the payment, then no payment will be made.

This is a one-time, lump sum benefit; however some survivors may qualify for a monthly benefit in addition to the one-time death benefit.  You must apply for the lump-sum death benefit within two years of the family member’s death.

Monthly Social Security Survivor Benefits:

In addition to the one-time payment, certain family members may receive a monthly benefit for a deceased person.  Widows, widowers, children and dependent parents may qualify for monthly survivor benefits.  In some cases, even divorced widows and widowers may qualify to receive benefits when their ex-spouse dies.  The monthly survivor benefit is also referred to as “survivors insurance” as it is much like a life insurance policy.

To be eligible for survivor benefits, the deceased worker must have worked and earned credits towards Social Security benefits.  The number of years required to work depends on the age of the deceased family member.

The following family members may qualify for monthly survivor benefits:

  • a widow or widower, beginning at age 50 if disabled or 60 is not disabled;
  • a widow or widower who is caring for your child under the age of 16, regardless of the age of the widow or widower,
  • unmarried children of the deceased also qualify if they are under age 18 (or age 22 if they are disabled).
  • in some cases, even grandchildren, step children or adopted children may qualify for survivor benefits.

If you are divorced, you may qualify for survivor benefits on an ex-spouse if you were married for at least 10 years, and you are age 60 or older when your ex-spouse passes (you only need to be age 50 if you are disabled).

Applying for Survivor Benefits:

You should notify Social Security and apply for Social Security benefits right away after a family member has passed.  To do so, you can call the Social Security Administration or visit the closest office to you.  You will need to provide proof of death (death certificate or proof from a funeral home), your Social Security number and your deceased family member’s Social Security number, your birth certificate, marriage certificate if married, divorce papers if you are divorced, and income information for the deceased family member (from W-2s or income tax returns) for the most recent year.  Social Security death benefits are paid only from the time you apply, so it’s important to apply as soon as possible after the death of a loved one if you qualify.

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