When a Social Security Recipient Dies, Survivors May Be Eligible for Benefits

February 5, 2022

When loved ones pass away, there are lots of considerations, including what happens to their Social Security. The decedent’s payments need to be stopped, but survivor’s benefits may be available to the spouse or, in certain cases, children.

Social Security benefits stop at death. If a loved one who was receiving Social Security dies, you need to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Often the funeral home does this as one of its services, but if not, you can notify Social Security by calling 1-800-772-1213 or contacting your local Social Security office. Benefits are not paid for the month the recipient dies and are not prorated. So, even if the recipient dies in the middle or end of the month, Social Security will not pay any benefits for that month. If the Social Security Administration is not notified on time and makes a payment, that payment will have to be returned.

Death Benefit
Regardless of age or eligibility for survivor’s benefits, surviving spouses are entitled to a one-time lump-sum payment of $255 if they were living with the decedent or collecting benefits on the decedent’s record. If there is no surviving spouse, the payment can be made to a child who qualifies for benefits on the decedent’s record.

Survivor’s Benefits
In addition to the lump-sum death benefit, certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly survivor’s benefits, including:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if they have a disability).
  • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances.
  • A widow or widower at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or has a disability and is receiving child’s benefits.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school) or age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.
  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support.

If the spouse has reached full retirement age when the decedent died, then the spouse begins receiving the decedent’s actual benefits. This is true even if the decedent and spouse were divorced, so long as they had been married for at least 10 years.

While a spouse can claim survivor's benefits as early as age 60, the benefits will be permanently reduced. If the surviving spouse claims benefits between age 60 and full retirement age, he or she receives a reduced percentage of the decedent’s benefits. At age 60, the spouse will receive 71.5 percent of the actual benefits. If the spouse waits to collect, this percentage increases each year until the spouse reaches full retirement age, at which point he or she can receive 100 percent of the actual benefits. A surviving spouse who is age 50 to 59 also receives 71.5 percent of the actual benefits. Spouses caring for a child and the decedent’s dependents receive 75 percent of the decedent’s actual benefit. Dependent parents receive 75 percent each or 82.5 percent if there is only one parent.

If a surviving spouse, including a divorced spouse, remarries before turning age 60, then the spouse is no longer eligible for benefits unless the new marriage ends. Spouses who remarry after age 60 are still eligible for survivor’s benefits.

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