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What happens to Social Security benefits when someone dies?

On Behalf of | Dec 2, 2023 | Estate Administration And Probate |

When someone dies, there are usually a lot of different notifications that have to be made – not the least of which involves the Social Security Administration (SSA).

Whether your loved one was receiving retirement benefits, Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits or nothing at all at the time of their death, you need to understand what to do next.

Who notifies SSA of someone’s death?

You can notify SSA directly of a loved one’s death, but the agency will typically also receive written notice from the funeral director who handles your loved one’s remains. Early notice to SSA is particularly important if your loved one was receiving any kind of monthly benefit at the time of their death so that the payments can be promptly stopped.

What happens to the deceased’s checks from SSA?

If the deceased was receiving any kind of benefit check from SSA at the time of their death, it’s important to handle the funds carefully. Any monies received for the month of their death (and after) must be returned directly to the agency.

Keep in mind that Social Security checks for disability and retirement are paid one month behind – so November’s check doesn’t come until December, and December’s check comes in January and so on. If your loved one died on the first day of December, then, they would still be due the check they received in December – but not any in January.

Isn’t there a death benefit that’s meant to cover funeral costs?

Technically, there is a one-time lump-sum payment that can sometimes be paid to a surviving spouse or a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased worker’s record – but the benefit has never been increased since its inception. If anybody qualifies for it, the lump-sum death benefit is only $255, which is clearly far short of what it takes to pay for even a simple funeral or cremation these days.

Why else is it important to notify SSA?

It’s possible that someone in your family may be eligible for survivor’s benefits based on the deceased’s earnings. Because the rules surrounding eligibility are complicated, it’s best to explore those options directly with SSA. Delaying, however, could lead to lost benefits.

Losing a loved one is hard, but seeking experienced legal guidance can make it easier to handle everything, including making certain that all of the proper steps are followed to wrap up their final affairs.