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How Do I Apply For Social Security Death Benefits

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Documents Required During Application For The Social Security Death Benefits

How to Apply for Social Security Survivor Benefits for Spouse

Social Security death benefits can only begin after reporting the loss and after applying they do not automatically begin when the person passes away. Therefore, it is important to make an application as soon as possible.

The application is not available online, and a survivor would require visiting the nearest Social Security office, or make a phone call to Social Security to report a loss and apply for survivors benefits.

Applicants will provide the following information to prove their eligibility:

  • A certified evidence of death- this may be from a funeral home or a death certificate.
  • The names, genders, addresses, and social security numbers of former spouses.
  • Dates of marriages and when they ended, as well as how they ended.
  • A proof of birth through the original birth certificate.
  • Proof of United States Citizenship or the lawful resident status.
  • The deceased persons W-2 forms or the tax returns for the previous year, and amount of earnings in the year of death.
  • U.S military discharge papers .

How Do You Apply For Survivor Benefits

Because individual circumstances can vary widely, it is not possible to apply for survivor benefits online. However, you can apply over the phone or by appointment at your local Social Security office. Current requirements and contact information are always available on the Social Security Administration website.

Applying for survivor benefits may require you to submit specific documents, such as a death certificate, marriage certificate, proof of citizenship, or a divorce decree, so rounding them up beforehand will help expedite the process.

What Can Social Security Funeral Benefits Be Used For

Though the survivor funeral grant is earmarked for assistance with funeral costs, it arrives as a single payment of cash and may be spent on anything the assignee wishes. When the grant was first enacted, in 1935, the real value of $255 was close to $2,500 in 2020 dollars. This made it an adequate support for nearly all working Americans funeral expenses. After nearly nine decades of inflation, the Social Security Administration continues to pay out the original amount, without any adjustment, in what has become an anachronism that rarely covers the full cost of funeral expenses.

Fortunately, many states offer extra help with funeral and burial expenses. The state of Illinois, for example, pays a similar one-time benefit of up to $1,103 for the funeral of a low-income resident. Other states, and even some cities or counties have similar programs. In addition to these benefits, almost every state allows free donation of bodies to medical science. These donations are respectfully handled and studied for the advancement of science, after which they are cremated at no cost.

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How To Report A Death To Social Security

Before you can collect widows benefits, the death must be reported to the SSA. Funeral homes typically handle reporting of a death to the SSA. However, you will need to provide the funeral home with the deceaseds Social Security number for them to do so.

If you want to report the persons death yourself, call the SSA at 1-800-772-1213 between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can also visit a local Social Security office in person. Deaths cant be reported online.

Its best to report the death as soon as reasonably possible, since benefits start only after you apply.

If you were already receiving spousal benefits from Social Security, those benefits will be switched from spousal to survivors benefits. If you were receiving benefits based on your own work record, contact Social Security to see if youre eligible for higher benefits as a widow

Differences Between Social Security Death Benefits And Social Security Survivors’ Benefits

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People tend to generalize Social Security death benefits and Social Security survivors benefits and misunderstand them to be the same, but there are distinct differences between the two.

Retirees who have worked for 10 years or more while paying Social Security taxes earn their Social Security benefits, while Medicare benefits typically apply to retirees of age 65 and older, regardless of work history.

Social Security Administration manages the functions of the two programs. This means that anyone receiving Social Security Benefits gets an enrollment automatically into the Medicare program after turning 65.

The Social Security death benefit is a one-time lump-sum payment that leaves qualified survivors $255.

The Social Security survivors benefit is an ongoing benefit paid to qualifying family members of the deceased.

The more that person paid into Social Security in the form of taxes over their working years, the higher the survivors benefits will be.

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Beware The Blackout Period

As noted earlier, a widow or widower generally doesn’t qualify for their own benefits until age 60. However, that person can collect payouts as the caregiver for the deceased’s children until they turn 16.

The kids themselves qualify for benefits until they turn 18 . But between the child’s 18th birthday and the spouse’s 60th birthday , no one in the family is eligible to collect. That’s what’s known as a blackout period.

Consider, for example a woman is left widowed at the age of 30 with a two-year-old son. As her son’s caregiver, she is entitled to collect Social Security benefits for 14 years, until his 16thbirthday. After that, her son continues to receive his survivor benefits for two more years, until he’s 18. His mom will be 48 at that point, leaving the family ineligible for any payments until her widow’s benefits become available when she’s 60. In this case, the Social Security blackout period lasts 12 years.

One possible solution is for families to make sure they have adequate life insurance to support a surviving spouse during any blackout period. Take, for instance, a couple, both 31 years old, who recently had a child. If either parent dies, the surviving spouse is eligible to collect benefits until they are 47 years old . If they both buy 30-year term life insurance policies and keep up with the premiums, they’ll be assured of coverage until age 61one year after Social Security eligibility is reinstatedin case one of them dies.

Who Qualifies For Social Security Survivor Benefits

Monthly survivor benefits are available to certain family members, including:

  • A widow age 60 or older who has not remarried
  • A widow of any age who is caring for the deceased’s child under age 16 or disabled
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than age 18 , or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22
  • A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child, under certain circumstances
  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their income and whose own Social Security benefit would not be larger than that of the deceased offspring
  • A surviving divorced spouse, if they meet other eligibility requirements

A one-time death benefit payment of $255 can be paid to your surviving spouse if they were living with you or if you were living apart and your spouse was receiving certain Social Security benefits on your record. In cases where there is no surviving spouse, the one-time payment can be made to a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased’s record in the month of death.

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Amount Of Survivors Benefits

A surviving spouse or minor child will receive a percentage of the monthly amount the deceased spouse would have received as a monthly disability benefit. Here are the general rules:

  • A minor or disabled child will receive 75% percent of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.
  • A surviving spouse who is caring for a minor or disabled child will receive 75% percent of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.
  • A surviving spouse who is between age 60 and full retirement age will receive 71-99% percent of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.
  • A surviving spouse who is 66 or 67 or older will receive the full amount of the deceased worker’s monthly amount.

The total of the surviving spouse’s benefit and the children’s benefits cannot be greater than the maximum family benefit, which is generally 150% to 180% of the deceased worker’s monthly SSDI benefit.

If A Disabled Individual Dies His Or Her Spouse And Dependents May Get Social Security Survivors Benefits

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When a disabled person who was receiving Social Security Disability Insurance dies, the money that they were receiving can go to his or her dependents, including a spouse, children, and even elderly dependent parents.

Here are the various categories of relatives who are eligible to receive survivors benefits.

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Mother’s Or Father’s Benefit

The surviving spouse of a deceased worker who is taking care of a child of the deceased worker is eligible for what’s known as the “mother’s benefit” or the “father’s benefit.” The mother or father must be taking care of a child under age 16 or disabled. For information on calculating benefits, see our article on spousal disability benefits.

Apply For Survivors Benefits

You should notify us immediately when a person dies. However, you cannot report a death or apply for survivors benefits online.

In most cases, the funeral home will report the persons death to us. You should give the funeral home the deceased persons Social Security number if you want them to make the report.

If you need to report a death or apply for benefits, call 1-800-772-1213 . You can speak to a Social Security representative between 8:00 a.m. 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. Although our offices are closed to the public, employees from those offices are assisting people by telephone. You can find the phone number for your local office by using our Social Security Office Locator and looking under Social Security Office Information. The toll-free Office number is your local office.

If you are not getting benefits

If you are not getting benefits, you should apply for survivors benefits promptly because, in some cases, benefits may not be retroactive.

If you are getting benefits

If you are getting benefits on your spouse’s or parent’s record:

  • You generally will not need to file an application for survivors benefits.
  • We’ll automatically change any monthly benefits you receive to survivors benefits after we receive the report of death.
  • We may be able to pay the automatically.

If you are getting retirement or disability benefits on your own record:

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Does Social Security Pay For Funeral Expenses

The Social Security Administration pays a small grant to eligible survivors of some beneficiaries to help with the cost of a funeral. In 2020, this amount was set by law at $255 for SSI recipients. The heirs of a beneficiary who has passed have some flexibility in how this benefit is paid out and what it may be used to pay for.

Who Receives Benefits

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Certain family members may be eligible to receive monthly benefits, including:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older .
  • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances.
  • A widow or widower at any age who is caring for the deceaseds child who is under age 16 or disabled and receiving childs benefits.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is one of the following:
  • Younger than age 18 .
  • Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22.

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Obtain Proof Of Death

Statement of death

The statement of death issued by the funeral home is sufficient in most situations instead of a death certificate.

If the person died abroad, you may be able to register the death and receive an official death certificate through the funeral home in the country where the death occurred.

Death certificate

Once registered, the vital statistics office of the province or territory issues a death certificate.

You may need to request multiple copies of the death certificate in order to:

  • cancel benefits
  • make a life insurance claim
  • sell the house of the deceased person, etc.
  • Order copies of a death certificate
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How To Maximize Survivor Benefits

The survivor benefit amount depends on whether both the deceased worker and the survivor had already started collecting benefits. Generally, the longer you wait to claim benefits , the larger they will be. So if you can afford to, delaying will pay off.

If you have your own earned retirement benefit, there are also strategies to maximize the two benefits. Remember: you cannot simply add together your survivor benefit and your own retirement benefit. Instead, Social Security will pay you the higher of the two. However, you can receive one benefit for a time and later file for the other. If your own retirement benefit would grow to be more at 70 than your survivors benefit, you could claim your survivors benefit first, and later switch to your own. If youre already receiving retirement benefits and the survivors benefit would be larger, you can switch to survivors benefits. And if you became eligible for retirement benefits within the last 12 months and suffered the loss of a spouse, you might be able to withdraw your retirement application and instead apply for survivors benefitsthen reapply for retirement benefits later, when they will be worth more.

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How Are Social Security Survivor Benefits Calculated

First of all, you have to work a certain number of years and amass the requisite number of “credits” each year for your loved ones to be eligible for benefitswhich you have to do to be eligible yourself. For 2021, you receive one credit for every $1,470 you earn, up to $5,880, for a total of four credits a year.

The exact number of credits you need for family members to be eligible for survivor benefits depends on your age when you die. The younger you are, the fewer credits you need, but the maximum you will ever need is 40 credits. For most people, it is necessary to work and pay Social Security taxes for at least 10 years to accrue the required amount.

However, if your death leaves a spouse with dependent children, a special provision allows benefits to be paid to them if you have earned six credits or more within the three calendar years prior to your death.

As with regular retirement benefits, the amount of survivor benefits that your family would receive is based on your average lifetime earnings. The more you earned, the higher the benefit, up to a certain maximum.

What Is A Social Security Card


Your Social Security card is an important piece of identification. You’ll need one to get a job, collect Social Security, or receive other government benefits.

When you apply for a Social Security number , the Social Security Administration will assign you a nine-digit number. This is the same number that is printed on the Social Security card that SSA will issue you. If you change your name, you will need to get a corrected card.

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How Do Benefits Work And How Can I Qualify

While you work, you pay Social Security taxes. This tax money goes into a trust fund that pays benefits to:

  • Those who are currently retired

  • To people with disabilities

  • To the surviving spouses and children of workers who have died

Each year you work, youll get credits to help you become eligible for benefits when its time for you to retire. Find all the benefits Social Security Administration offers.

There are four main types of benefits that the SSA offers:

  • Learn about earning limits if you plan to work while receiving Social Security benefits

Other Things You Need To Know

There are limits on how much survivors may earn while they receive benefits.

Benefits for a widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse may be affected by several additional factors:

  • If you remarry before you reach age 60 , you cannot receive benefits as a surviving spouse while you are married.
  • If you remarry after you reach age 60 , you will continue to qualify for benefits on your deceased spouse’s Social Security record.
  • However, if your current spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, you may want to apply for spouse’s benefits on their record. If that amount is more than your widow’s or widower’s benefit, you will receive a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.

  • If you receive benefits as a widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse, you can switch to your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits and your retirement rate is higher than your rate as a widow, widower, or surviving divorced spouse.
  • In many cases, a widow or widower can begin receiving one benefit at a reduced rate and then, at full retirement age, switch to the other benefit at an unreduced rate.
  • If you will also receive a pension based on work not covered by Social Security, such as government or foreign work, your Social Security benefits as a survivor may be affected.

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National Defence And Veterans Affairs Canada

If the deceased person was a serving or a former member of the Canadian Armed Forces, follow these guidelines:

Serving Canadian Armed Force member

Inform the chain of command of the members unit, squadron or ship. A member of the unit will assist you during this difficult period.

Former Canadian Armed Force member / Veteran

Inform the Government of Canada Pension Centre if the deceased person was a Canadian Armed Forces Pension Plan member or a pension recipient.

Inform Veterans Affairs Canada if the Veteran was receiving services or benefits.

Consult Veterans Affairs Canada information on Death and bereavement.

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