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Social Security Benefits 101

Afterall supports grieving families by offering guidance on navigating the complexities of paperwork, particularly Social Security benefits, after the loss of a loved one.

Basics of Social Security Death Benefits

Dealing with the passing of a loved one is never easy; the emotional burden is often compounded by the difficulty of navigating practical issues that inevitably follow. One such issue is paperwork, some of which may be more confusing than others. As an end-of-life service provider, we often receive questions about Social Security benefits - whether families are eligible to receive benefits or how to return benefits that were received in error. At Afterall, we understand how daunting it can be to navigate this process, and we want to help by providing you with the best information so you understand how to take the next steps.

Notify Social Security

When your loved one passes away, notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. This notification ensures the appropriate actions are taken to help surviving family members access their Social Security benefits.

Are You Eligible for Benefits?

If your loved one has passed and was receiving Social Security benefits, you may be eligible for a lump-sum benefit or monthly benefits from Social Security. To determine if you qualify to receive benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 or visit a local Social Security office. You’ll want to inquire if any paperwork is needed to receive the benefits or which benefits you are eligible for. If you already receive benefits for your loved one, you usually won’t need to apply again.

If eligible, you may receive a one-time payment of $255. This payment usually goes to the deceased's spouse if they were living together at the time of passing, but it could also be made to the deceased's spouse or child who would be eligible for a Social Security payment in the month of their death.

Monthly Social Security Benefits for Survivors

Some family members may qualify to receive monthly Social Security payments on behalf of their loved one. Monthly benefits depend on which benefits the deceased was receiving and the type of benefits they had. The amount for each month is a percentage of the total benefit your loved one received. The more your loved one contributed to Social Security, the higher your benefits as a survivor will be. Surviving family members who may be eligible to receive monthly Social Security benefits include:

Surviving Spouse

The amount of benefits a surviving spouse receives depends on their age and a few other factors: 

  • They must have been married to the deceased person for at least nine months.
  • If over 60, they can receive full survivors' benefits. 
  • If between 50 and 60 years old and disabled, they can collect partial survivors' benefits. 
  • If taking care of the deceased's child who is either below 16 or disabled, they can receive benefits regardless of age.

Surviving Divorced Spouse

Under certain circumstances, a surviving divorced spouse may qualify for Social Security benefits. This applies when the following criteria are met:

  • Must have been married for at least ten years.
  • Must be 60 years old or older.
  • Can’t be currently married.

Unmarried Children

If your parent passed away and you're either below 18 or disabled, you could be eligible for survivors' benefits from Social Security. If you're over 18 and still living with a disability that began before your 22nd birthday, you can also claim benefits.

Dependent Parents Over Age 62

If you're over 62 years of age and your child passed away, leaving you as their dependent parent, you may be eligible for Social Security benefits.

Do You Have to Return Extra Social Security Payments?

In some instances, your loved one may receive a Social Security payment after they have passed. If this happens, and they did not survive through the entirety of the month for that payment, you may have to return that payment to Social Security. For example, if your loved one died in August, and you received benefits for them in September, you'd likely have to return the payment because your loved one did not survive through the entire month of August. For any payments you have to return, we advise that you send in those checks as soon as possible.

Finding Comfort & Healing in Trying Times

We understand that navigating Social Security benefits after the passing of a loved one can be daunting and emotionally taxing. At Afterall, we strive to provide comfort and empower our families during these trying times by offering the best assistance we can. Find a nearby provider here. We encourage you to use the information in this article and seek assistance from the Social Security website to maximize the benefits you or your family members are entitled to. For more information, take a look at our article about important facts you should know about social security.