Who Is Eligible for Social Security Death Benefits?
- Do you know who is eligible for Social Security death benefits? The SSA pays survivor benefits to dependents of beneficiaries who have passed. Find out more below.
Who Is Eligible for Social Security Death Benefits?
Surviving dependents of Social Security beneficiaries may be eligible for survivor benefits if they had a qualifying relationship with the deceased. Here are some examples of those relationships:
- Widowed spouses aged 60 and above, or disabled spouses over age 50, can collect the benefits their late spouse received.
- Divorced spouses may be eligible under certain circumstances.
- Widowed spouses are also eligible for survivor benefits if they are taking care of the deceased beneficiary’s minor child under age 16 or a child who is disabled.
- Unmarried children of beneficiaries are also entitled to benefits if they are younger than age 18, or 19 if they are students.
- Children of beneficiaries may also be able to claim survivor benefits if they are disabled, and their disability began before age 22.
Social Security Benefits
The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides several forms of support for Americans who meet certain criteria. Once approved, beneficiaries receive a monthly check from the SSA, which may be spent like any other income to support them during times they cannot work. This may be due to age, disability or other factors that have left them with a low income.
The Social Security retirement pension is one of the most widely used benefits the SSA offers. Tens of millions of Americans depend on this benefit for some or all of their income after they stop working. Seniors become eligible for limited benefits at age 62, with the benefit amount increasing for every year they continue to work up to age 67. All U.S. citizens with sufficient work credits, who do not fall into an exception such as railroad workers, become eligible for a Social Security pension when they retire.
The SSA also pays benefits to disabled workers and people with low incomes, whatever the reason. SSI is a low-income support program that pays a monthly stipend to people with limited income and assets. Participation in SSI is often an automatic qualifier for other benefits, such as food stamps and Medicaid.
SSDI pays out monthly benefits in a way very similar to SSI, except it is intended to help adults with disabilities that keep them from working. A qualifying disability may be physical or mental, and it must be either permanent or likely to last longer than six months to be eligible for benefits through SSDI.
When a Beneficiary Passes Away
Many Social Security beneficiaries have dependents who rely on them for financial support. When a beneficiary passes away, that support does not always have to end, but surviving dependents must notify the administration of their loved one’s passing and make arrangements for continuing support.
It is common for the SSA to continue to issue checks for beneficiaries who have recently died. If a Social Security participant was receiving retirement benefits, for instance, and died in July, that person’s pension check for August is likely to arrive as usual. It's important for surviving family members to not cash that check; it must be returned to the SSA. If the funds were directly deposited into a bank account, notify the bank and ask that the funds be returned.
If you rely on the Social Security income of a loved one for financial support, you may be entitled to continued support from the SSA, though as survivor benefits, rather than as the primary support your loved one got while alive. The qualifying relationships listed above apply to survivor benefits.
Social Security survivor benefits continue to be paid like any other Social Security stipend. The check continues to be mailed out or directly deposited into the bank, though with the survivor listed as the recipient of record, rather than the deceased. Unlike primary benefits, survivor benefits do not pass along to next of kin or dependents.
The Social Security Funeral Grant
In addition to the continuing support of survivor benefits, the SSA pays a one-time funeral grant of $255 to the eligible spouse or child of a deceased beneficiary. This grant was set by law as a part of the original Social Security legislation in 1935, when $255 had about the same purchasing power as $2,500 in 2020 dollars, and it has not been increased since. As a result, the funeral grant typically goes a very small way toward covering the funeral expenses of beneficiaries who have died.
Many survivors of beneficiaries get more support for funeral expenses from their state governments, many of which offer higher grant amounts than the federal Social Security benefit.
How to Claim Social Security Survivor Benefits
If you have recently lost a loved one who received a Social Security payment, and you think you might be eligible for survivor benefits or the funeral grant, you must get in touch with the Social Security office in your area to apply as early as possible. This may be done online in many cases, over the phone or in person by appointment.
When you apply for Social Security survivor benefits, you will have to prove that your loved one has died, which can be done with an original death certificate. You should also expect to be asked about your relationship to the deceased. Arrive at your appointment, or file your application, with documentation proving your marriage, divorce or familial relationship to the beneficiary.
If you are the widowed spouse of the beneficiary and claim benefits on behalf of a minor or disabled child, you might need to produce birth or adoption records, school enrollment forms, adoption paperwork and proof of the dependent’s physical or mental disability.
After submitting your application and supporting documentation, your request for survivor benefits will be reviewed and approved, after which your payments should arrive normally, as they did when your loved one was enrolled in the program. If your claim is denied for any reason, you will be given information about how to file an appeal with your denial of claim letter. The appeal process can get lengthy, but on approval you will be paid all of the backdated benefits you are entitled to receive.