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5 Facts to Know About Social Security Payments

If your loved one paid into Social Security, when they pass, you may be entitled to benefits.

If your loved one paid into Social Security, when they pass, you may be entitled to benefits. The more they paid into the system, the higher your payment will be. However, there are rules and guidelines you’ll need to be aware of as you navigate the sometimes-complex world of Social Security. 

Here are five things to know about Social Security benefits that we hope will make the process easier for you.

1. You Cannot Report a Death Online

Most funeral providers will notify Social Security of a death. However, if this task falls to you, it is important to know that you cannot report a death online. You must call. Your chosen funeral home or provider will need the loved one’s Social Security number to make the report. If you are calling, the number is 1-800-772-1213.

2. The Death Benefit Lump Sum is Under $300

If you are the spouse and lived with the loved one who died, you may receive a one-time, lump sum benefit of $255. If there is no spouse, the child may be eligible to receive the payment. Even a spouse who was living apart from the person who passed may be eligible in some cases. Because this amount is so small, you’ll want to be sure to understand how much to budget for funeral planning and alternatives for funding from other sources like life insurance or crowdsourcing.

3. You Must Pay Back Benefits Paid to Deceased 

If your loved one received benefits the month they died, you have to give the money back for that and future months. For example, if they died in July and a check arrived in August, you must return the check. If you received the money by direct deposit, you must contact your bank to return the funds. 

4. Even a Divorced Spouse Might Receive Money 

Even a divorced spouse, if the pair had been married 10 years or more, may be eligible for benefits from Social Security. And the money received won’t affect other family members receiving payment. If you remarry after age 60, the remarriage won’t affect your disability (or 50 if you have a disability). Remarrying before these ages will affect your payment, though.

5. Your Age Affects Your Payments

If you are of full retirement age or older, you are eligible to receive 100 percent of your loved one’s Social Security payment. However, if you are just 60 (or age 50 with a disability) you will receive only a percentage of the payment. See the Social Security website for a breakdown of payments and percentages. There are other scenarios for benefits, for example, parents caring for dependent children and children under 18.

Beyond these 5 items, there are many rules and guidelines to follow. For example, if you are earning money, there are income limits that will impact your Social Security payments. Also, if multiple family members are receiving benefits, there is a cap on the total amount paid out. The limit varies, but is generally 150 to 180 percent of the basic benefit amount for the whole family.

If you have questions about your Social Security survivor benefits, you can contact them by phone or visit a local office. Your chosen funeral home or provider may also be able to answer some basic questions and report the death for you.

Remember, not everyone pays into Social Security. Some may have had an alternative retirement system like a teacher’s pension. In some cases, your spouse will not have benefits to pass onto you. But if they do, you’ll want to be prepared to figure out when to take payment and whether you’ll want to switch back to your own payments at 62 or beyond. There are tools and information on the Social Security website to help you understand your choices, for example, weighing the pros and cons of taking money “early.” To learn everything you need to know about social security, check out our social security 101 article.

We hope knowing more about the system that helped 69.8 million people with benefits in 2020 will make the process of getting your Social Security survivor payments a little easier.