Does Social Security Pay for Funeral Expenses?

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  • Does Social Security Pay for Funeral Expenses? Find out whether you qualify for a grant from the Social Security Administration to help with funeral costs.
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Does Social Security Pay for Funeral Expenses?

The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a small grant to eligible survivors of some beneficiaries to help with the cost of a funeral. In 2020, this amount was set by law at $255 for SSI recipients. The heirs of a beneficiary who has passed have some flexibility in how this benefit is paid out and what it may be used to pay for.

Social Security Benefits

Social Security programs are among the most widely used benefits U.S. citizens have access to. Tens of millions of Americans participate in one or more of the benefit programs offered through the SSA. Apart from the retirement pension paid to over 64 million seniors, the SSA also administers low-income and disability benefits, known as SSI/SSDI, and survivors’ grants and pensions for eligible next of kin, such as a surviving spouse of a beneficiary.

What Is SSI/SSDI?

SSI and SSDI are two of the major programs administered by the SSA. SSI is intended to supplement the income of people with very few resources, which it does with a monthly stipend. SSDI pays similar benefits for people with ongoing long-term medical disabilities. Though they function in similar ways, the criteria for acceptance into these programs is somewhat different. SSI is awarded based on financial need, while SSDI awards are for eligible citizens with disabilities that last longer than 6 months. These programs include a one-time cash grant to help with funeral expenses when a beneficiary passes away.

How Much Does SSI Pay Family Members?

In 2020, the SSA pays survivors a single disbursement of $255 on the death of their eligible family member. This amount has not been adjusted upward by Congress, which sets the benefit amount by law, since it was first adopted as part of the original 1935 Social Security Act.

How Are Funds Paid?

Heirs of an SSI/SSDI participant have several options to collect the survivors’ grant. On approval, the funds may be paid directly to the named heir, either by check or direct deposit.

Who Is Eligible to Receive an SSI Death Benefit?

Surviving spouses of beneficiaries are the first in line to receive an SSI death benefit. If the married couple lived together, the funds are typically paid within a few weeks without further complications. If the pair lived apart, such as if the deceased beneficiary resided in a nursing home, then benefits may still be paid without delay. If the pair were separated or divorcing, funds may still be paid, but some verification may need to be provided before the SSA can approve a payment. 

If no qualifying spouse is available, then the SSA may pay the benefit to any child of the beneficiary who meets the SSA’s criteria. Generally, this means the child of the beneficiary must have been eligible for survivors’ benefits through the beneficiary during the month when the death occurred. 

What if Nobody Is Eligible?

If a beneficiary passes away without an eligible heir on record, the SSA makes an attempt to identify a next of kin who might qualify for the benefit. If no person can be found, then no payments can be made.

What About Social Security Survivors’ Benefits?

The one-time payment of a funeral grant is not to be confused with ongoing Social Security survivors’ benefits. Survivors’ benefits are a continuation of the deceased beneficiary’s regular monthly payments to support any dependents who are left without their support. While SSA death benefits are available to surviving spouses and children, survivors’ benefits are open to:

  • A surviving spouse aged 60 and up, or age 50 if there’s a qualifying disability
  • A surviving spouse of any age who is left in care of a minor child under age 16. Children over 16 may also qualify if they have a disability.

  • Unmarried minor children of the beneficiary up to age 18, or up to age 19 if they are full-time students

  • Adult children of the beneficiary who are over the age of 18, but who have a permanent disability that began before age 22

  • Parents of the beneficiary who were dependent on the beneficiary for at least 50% of their financial support

  • Divorced former spouses, though some restrictions apply to their eligibility

Survivor benefits continue to be paid on a monthly basis for as long as the recipient is eligible. These funds may be spent like any income, but they generally don’t have to be treated as income for many means tests or tax purposes. Always consult with a financial planner about how to report Social Security benefits as income.

What Can Social Security Funeral Benefits Be Used For?

Though the survivor funeral grant is earmarked for assistance with funeral costs, it arrives as a single payment of cash and may be spent on anything the assignee wishes. When the grant was first enacted, in 1935, the real value of $255 was close to $2,500 in 2020 dollars. This made it an adequate support for nearly all working Americans’ funeral expenses. After nearly nine decades of inflation, the Social Security Administration continues to pay out the original amount, without any adjustment, in what has become an anachronism that rarely covers the full cost of funeral expenses.

Fortunately, many states offer extra help with funeral and burial expenses. The state of Illinois, for example, pays a similar one-time benefit of up to $1,103 for the funeral of a low-income resident. Other states, and even some cities or counties have similar programs. In addition to these benefits, almost every state allows free donation of bodies to medical science. These donations are respectfully handled and studied for the advancement of science, after which they are cremated at no cost.

How to Apply for Social Security Death Benefits

If you need to apply for the Social Security funeral benefit, you must fill out form SSA-8, from the Social Security Administration. This form is available from your local Social Security Administration office. You can also fill out the form by phone at (800) 772-1213. Before getting in touch with the SSA, be prepared to present these documents:

  • Proof of birth, such as an original birth certificate
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Pre-1968 military discharge papers (skip this if the discharge occurred after 1968)
  • Any current W-2 forms
  • A verified copy of the death certificate

As the claimant, you may also have to answer a few questions to establish your own eligibility to claim the benefit. Be prepared to provide your name, address, relationship to the deceased and other information, such as your Social Security number. Remember that, if you are the next of kin of a Social Security beneficiary who has passed, you must not cash their last pension check, but return it in full to the SSA.