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How to Claim Social Security Death Benefits 

When a person dies it is important to notify Social Security (*see note). Most funeral homes will report the death for families, once a social security number is provided during the funeral arrangement process. This takes a small part of the burden off of the family of the deceased.  

1. Who can collect the Social Security benefits?      

  • When a person dies, it is important to know that their survivors (spouse, children, parents) are able to claim certain death benefits.                                                                                                                                   
  • Eligible survivors include a widow/widower aged sixty or older, or fifty years of age if the surviving spouse is disabled. 
  • Surviving divorced spouses may qualify under certain circumstances (contact Social Security for additional information). 
  • A widow/widower of any age may be eligible for benefits if they are caring for the child/children of the deceased, as long as the children are age 16 or younger, disabled, age 18 or older with a disability before the age of 22, or a full-time student who is 19 years old or younger.  

At 60 years of age, a surviving spouse receives reduced survivor death benefits, and will then receive full benefits at the age of 62.                                                                                                                                             

  • If a spouse is disabled within five years of the deceased spouse’s death, survivor benefits can be received at the age of 50. Meeting certain requirements, survivors may qualify for a lump sum payout of $225.  

2. What happens if the deceased is a younger person?

If the deceased is younger when they die, fewer benefits are available (based on lack of years paid into the workforce Social Security system). Workers typically need 40 credits, or 10 years, to obtain full Social Security benefits. Survivors may be eligible for a reduced benefit if the worker had credit for one and a half years of employment (6 credits) within the three years prior to death.  

3. Are other surviving relatives eligible to receive the death benefits?                                          

Under certain circumstances, other surviving relatives may be eligible to receive the death benefits. 

This includes stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren, and adopted children. Parents of the deceased (if they are aged 62 or older) may be eligible for benefits as well if they were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support. It is best to contact Social Security to discuss unique situations and determine specific eligibility. (www.ssa.gov or call  1-800-772-1213) 

4. What happens if the person who is collecting social security dies? What happens to those benefits?              

If the deceased was already receiving Social Security benefits, survivors must return the benefit that was received during the month of death, along with any future payments in later months. All checks received will need to be returned to Social Security and direct deposits need to be canceled with the banking institution connected with the deceased.

*Note: When a person retires from the workforce, Social Security provides a replacement income for the years that the worker contributed to the Social Security system. To apply at retirement, individuals can visit the Social Security Administration website (www.ssa.gov) to find more information about retirement benefits and search for a local office. Appointments are recommended, but not required. Retirees can also call 1-800-772-1213 

Further information here.

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