Social Security Benefits: What Happens When A Loved One Dies

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Just as you plan for life insurance policies to cover yourself and your family in the event a loved one dies, it’s also important to plan ahead for Social Security benefits that may be available to you if you are the survivor of someone who was receiving benefits. A survivor can mean the spouse, child or parent of a worker that died. 

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The most important thing to consider is that the person must have worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits.

According to the Social Security Administration, a worker can earn up to four credits each year. In 2021, your spouse can earn one credit for each $1,470 of wages or self-employment income. When that spouse has earned $5,880, they have earned their four credits for the year, the SSA states.

The number of credits a worker would need to provide benefits for survivors depends on the worker’s age when they die. Ten years, or 40 credits, is the minimum amount needed to be eligible to receive any type of Social Security benefit. This means the younger a person is, the fewer credits they must have for family members to receive survivors benefits.

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Benefits are allowable to the worker’s children and surviving spouse who is caring for those children even if the worker does not have the minimum amount of credits. They can receive benefits if the worker has credit for 1.5 years of work, or 6 credits in the three years before their death. 

Who Can Receive Benefits?

 The SSA states that certain family members who can be eligible for benefits include:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if disabled).
  • 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 disabled and receiving child’s benefits.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is one of the following:
    • Younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if he or she is a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school).
    • Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

One-Time Death Benefit

A one-time death benefit of $255 can be paid to the surviving spouse if they were living with the deceased. If they were living apart they can claim the death benefit if they were already claimed on the deceased’s record.

If there is no surviving spouse, or the prior spouse has remarried, the payment is made to the child who is on the deceased’s record the month of their death.

What To Do

The Social Security Administration needs to be notified as soon as the loved one dies. This cannot be reported online. The SSA states that in most cases, the funeral home will actually report the death to them. If you would like the funeral home to report the death, you should give the funeral home the deceased’s social security number.

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Each person’s situation and obligations are different, which means the most important thing to do is talk to a Social Security representative. If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can speak to a Social Security representative between 8:00 a.m. – 5:30 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also visit your local Social Security office. The SSA states an appointment is not required, but if you call ahead and schedule one, it may reduce the time you spend waiting to speak to someone.

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About the Author

Georgina Tzanetos is a former financial advisor who studied post-industrial capitalist structures at New York University. She has eight years of experience with concentrations in asset management, portfolio management, private client banking, and investment research. Georgina has written for Investopedia and WallStreetMojo. 

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