The Impact of Death on Social Security Benefits

Samantha Miller

The death of a loved one is always difficult, and during such an emotional time, financial considerations may be far from your mind. However, depending on the circumstances, you may need to take certain steps regarding the Social Security benefits of the deceased person.

This guide will explain what happens to Social Security payments when someone dies, who may be eligible for survivor’s benefits, and how to notify the Social Security Administration.

Notifying Social Security of a Death

The first thing to do when someone who receives Social Security benefits passes away is to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. This is usually handled by the funeral director, who will send in a Statement of Death.

However, if that doesn’t happen for some reason, you’ll need to call SSA directly at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). The notification cannot be done online.

When you call, you’ll need to provide the deceased person’s Social Security number. The executor of the estate can also contact the SSA to report a death. It’s crucial to notify the SSA quickly so benefit payments are suspended in a timely manner.

Suspension of Benefits After Death

Social Security benefits are paid in the month prior to a person’s death. Any payments issued for the month of a beneficiary’s passing or later months must be returned. According to Peggy Sherman, a certified financial planner, “Any benefit that’s paid after the month of the person’s death needs to be refunded.”

The SSA will automatically change any monthly benefits the deceased person was receiving to survivor’s benefits once the agency receives the official notice of death. The SSA may also be able to pay out a special one-time death benefit of $255 automatically.

Who Is Eligible for Survivor’s Benefits

If the deceased person worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits, their surviving family members may be able to receive survivor’s benefits based on their work record. Here are some of the eligible family members:

  • Widow or Widower: The surviving spouse of the deceased person may receive full survivor’s benefits if they have reached full retirement age (currently 66 or 67 depending on birth year). A widow or widower can receive reduced benefits as early as age 60.
  • Minor Children: Unmarried children under the age of 18 (or under 19 if still enrolled in high school) are eligible for survivor’s benefits. Disabled children may qualify at any age if their disability began before age 22.
  • Dependent Parents: Surviving parents who were dependent on the deceased person for at least half of their financial support may be eligible for survivor’s benefits.

In some cases, a divorced spouse may qualify for survivor’s benefits based on an ex-spouse’s earnings if the marriage lasted at least 10 years. It’s also possible for a surviving spouse to receive survivor’s benefits even if they are already collecting Social Security on their own work record.

How Much Are Survivor’s Benefits?

The amount of survivor’s benefits paid out depends on a few factors, including the deceased person’s past income and when the survivor claims benefits. Here are some key points:

  • A widow or widower who claims benefits at full retirement age can receive 100% of the deceased spouse’s basic benefit amount.
  • A widow or widower who claims benefits at age 60 receives about 71% of the deceased spouse’s basic amount.
  • Minor children receive 75% of the deceased parent’s benefit per child.
  • Dependent parents receive 82% of the deceased child’s benefit amount.
  • Total benefits paid to a family are capped at varying percentages, between 150% to 180% of the deceased worker’s benefit amount.

Applying for Survivor’s Benefits

To receive survivor’s benefits, eligible family members must submit an application to SSA. The necessary forms can be obtained by calling SSA or visiting a local Social Security office.

You will need to provide the deceased family member’s Social Security number and proof of relationship, such as a marriage or birth certificate.

In some cases, SSA will automatically convert benefits and begin paying eligible survivors if they are already receiving benefits on the deceased person’s record. But it’s still a good idea to contact SSA to ensure the proper payment adjustments are made.

It’s always difficult coping with the loss of a spouse, parent or child. But hopefully understanding the rules around Social Security survivor’s benefits makes the financial aspects a little easier to navigate during such a trying time.

Reach out to Social Security by phone or in person to learn more about how survivor’s benefits work in your specific situation.

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Samantha Miller is a business and finance journalist with over 10 years of experience covering the latest news and trends shaping the corporate landscape. She began her career at The Wall Street Journal, where she reported on major companies and industry developments. Now, Samantha serve as a senior business writer for, profiling influential executives and providing in-depth analysis on business and financial topics.
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