Applying for social security death benefits after a loved one’s passing can feel like a complicated and overwhelming process, especially in the midst of grieving your loved one, but it’s actually quite simple once you know the steps and the proper channels to go through.
So how does Social Security even work?
You may know of Social Security as a government program for retirement benefits, when, in fact, Social Security offers support for not only retired and disabled workers but also their families in order to provide lifetime income for those who are eligible. The three types of Social Security benefits are retirement, disability, and survivors benefits. Survivors benefits are distributed to your loved ones after your death. In most cases, the value of your survivors benefits will be more than the value of your own life insurance.
Everyone earns survivors benefits as they work, so for each year you work, you earn a certain number of credits toward your benefits, up to four credits. The average worker needs to earn 40 credits, or work for 10 years, to qualify for benefits. However, if a person dies or is disabled at a young age, they might not have to earn the full 40 credits to qualify for benefits.
If you are a family member of a deceased loved one, i.e. a widow, widower, child, dependent parent, or divorced widow or widower, you may be eligible for these benefits. However, before you receive any social security payout, you have to first report your loved one’s death to Social Security and apply for survivors benefits. You can apply online or at your local SSA office.
One common misconception when it comes to this process is that the funeral home will send the death certificate to the Social Security office, but, in fact, it’s up to the family members of the deceased to send the death certificate and answer any relevant questions Social Security may have. But don’t panic—we’re here to walk you through the process of collecting social security after death to ensure all goes smoothly.
How to report a death to Social Security
First and foremost, it’s important to remember that you should notify social security as soon as possible when a person dies because, for some claims, the SSA will only pay you from the time of application, and not the date of death reported. Thankfully, 98% of death certificates are now electronic, and once they are approved in the state system, the SSA receives a death notification.
The funeral home will also notify Social Security of death, but they aren’t able to answer any questions relating to applying for benefits, so a family member must call two weeks after the day of death to begin the application process. You can do this one of two ways:
- Call and set up a time window in which Social Security can call you back, or
- Wait on the phone for 50 minutes to talk to a social security representative
When you talk to Social Security, you will need a variety of identifying information and documents, so be sure to have the following on hand:
- The death certificate
- Your SSN, along with you loved one’s SSN
- Your birth certificate
- Your marriage certificate, if you’re the spouse of the deceased
- Your divorce papers, if you’re divorced from the deceased
- Any dependent children’s SSN and birth certificates
- Your loved one’s W-2s or federal self-employment tax return from the previous year; and
- Your bank and account number—this will ensure that you can receive your benefits via direct deposit
How to claim the $255 social security death benefit
You might have heard that some survivors are eligible to receive an additional $255 social security death benefit. If you don’t know about this process, here’s how it works:
A surviving spouse or child may receive a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 if they meet certain requirements. If you are a surviving spouse, you must have been living with your spouse at the time of their death; or, if you were living apart from them, you need to have been receiving other social security benefits on your loved one’s record.
A surviving child may receive this lump sum if there is no surviving spouse and the child is eligible for this benefit in the month of their parent’s death.
Before you can collect this benefit, you have to apply by submitting an SSA-8 form. If you are not currently receiving benefits, you must apply for the $255 within two years of your loved one’s date of death.
Of course, this is all dependent on the last social security payment after death. For example, if your loved one was receiving monthly benefits, you will first have to return the benefits paid to them in the month of their death and any months after, before filling out the SSA-8 FORM.
Who is entitled to death benefits in social security?
This is a great question! The short answer is any widow or widower, divorced widow or widower, child, or dependent parent(s) of the deceased, but the monthly amount you receive depends on a number of qualifying factors.
For social security spousal death benefits, the widow or widower’s age determines the percentage of social security they can receive. If you are the spouse of the deceased, you may be eligible for 100% of benefits when you reach full retirement age. That age is 66 for people born between 1945 and 1956, and 67 for people born during or after 1962.
You may be eligible to receive between 71½-99 percent of benefits starting at age 60 or if you are disabled and between ages 50 and 59. You can also receive approximately 75% of benefits at any age if you are caring for your child who is younger than 16 or who is disabled and was diagnosed with their disability before age 22.
If you are an unmarried child of the deceased or younger than age 18, you can also receive 75% of survivors benefits. Some circumstances allow stepchildren, adopted children, grandchildren, or stepgrandchildren to receive benefits as well.
If you are a dependent parent of the deceased age 62 or older and have received at least half of the deceased’s support while they were living, you are eligible to receive anywhere from 75% to 82½ percent of benefits.
Spousal social security benefits
You have a few options on how to claim spousal benefits as the spouse of the deceased, but it can be challenging to determine the best course of action. Many people wait until they are past full retirement age so that they can receive a larger monthly payment. However, this means that you won’t receive benefits immediately following the death of your loved one except for the $255 death benefit, which is a small, one-time payment.
The SSA is flexible, though, when it comes to offering benefits to widows and widowers. For example, if you are already claiming your own benefits and your spouse dies and was the higher-earning partner in your relationship, you are able to switch from claiming your benefits to claiming theirs. Just remember that you are only eligible to receive 100 percent of their benefits if you are of full retirement age.
Ex-spouse social security benefits
As we discussed, ex-spouses are eligible for benefits, too, but if you are divorced from the deceased, you have to meet the following requirements:
- You have to have been married for at least 10 years
- You have to have been divorced for at least two years
- You have to be unmarried
- Your deceased ex-spouse has to be eligible for survivors benefits, i.e. has earned the 40 credits or died or was disabled at a young age
Bateman-Allen can help you with the social security benefit process
We realize that notifying social security can be a difficult task and may even be the last thing on your mind when grieving the death of a loved one, so we are here to help.
Due to the Covid-19 pandemic, social security death records are currently backed up, but we help you stay on top of the process by sending you text reminders for each step from submitting the death certificate to calling and applying for benefits.
To learn more about social security benefits, visit https://www.ssa.gov/.