What are Social Security Death Benefits

cropped-ssa benes

The Social Security Administration (SSA) provides benefits for surviving spouses, some ex-spouses, parents, and children of people who have worked and paid into SSA for at least ten years. Besides a one-time lump-sum death payment, the SSA pays survivors’ benefits via the Old-Age and Survivors Insurance (OASI) Trust Fund. The OASI has its own spending authority to pay retired workers’ SSA benefits, as well as a portion of the regular benefits a person would have received to designated survivors.

SSA Survivors’ Benefits

A decedent’s surviving spouse, child, or parent may qualify for SSA benefits. This depends partly on the decedent’s age and whether they worked long enough to earn benefits.

Each year that someone works (either earning wages or self-employment income), they can earn up to four credits from the SSA. To be eligible to collect Social Security benefits upon retirement, a person must have 40 credits (enough after working for ten years). The longer they work, the more credits they earn, and the greater their benefits will be.

Once a person dies, the SSA pays $255 as a one-time lump-sum death payment to any surviving spouse who lived with the decedent. If there was a funeral, the funeral director reports the death to the SSA, but a spouse also can notify the SSA by calling 800-772-1213 or by visiting a local Social Security office.

According to the SSA, if the decedent didn’t live with a spouse, an estranged spouse listed in the decedent’s records or an eligible child listed in these records can receive these benefits.Survivors must return any benefits the decedent received for the month in which they died and any later months.

The Old-Age and Survivors Insurance Trust Fund

Established in 1939, this separate account in the United States Treasury automatically pays monthly benefits to retired workers and survivors such as their spouses, children, and parents. Because the OASI has its own spending authority, the SSA does not need to ask Congress for money to pay these benefits.

The law requires that the SSA invest in interest-bearing Federal securities any money it doesn’t withdraw for costs such as current benefits. The SSA also deposits any interest earned into the OASI.

How Much Do Survivors Receive?

This varies based on the decedent’s age, as well as the survivor’s age and other circumstances.

Widows and widowers
  • A surviving spouse can receive 100% of a decedent’s spouse’s full monthly benefits at retirement age.
  • From age 60 until retirement age, a surviving spouse can receive from 71.5% to 99% of this basic amount.
  • If a surviving spouse has a disability that occurred within or before seven years of the decedent’s death, they can receive survivors’ benefits at age 50 (about 71.5%).
  • If the surviving spouse cares for a child under age 16 or for a disabled child – and the spouse has not remarried – they can receive survivors’ benefits at any age. These would amount to 75% of the decedent’s full monthly benefits.
Surviving divorced spouses
  • A child who is unmarried and under 18 (or 19 and attending school full-time) is eligible to receive Social Security survivors’ benefits of 75% of a decedent’s parents’ full monthly benefits.
  • A surviving child also can receive survivors’ benefits at any age once their parent dies if the child has a disability that occurred before age 22.
  • Certain circumstances allow for adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and step-grandchildren to receive survivors’ benefits as well.
Children
  • A child who is unmarried and under 18 (or 19 and attending school full-time) is eligible to receive Social Security survivors’ benefits of 75% of a decedent’s parents’ full monthly benefits.
  • A surviving child also can receive survivors’ benefits at any age once their parent dies if the child has a disability that occurred before age 22.
  • Certain circumstances allow for adopted children, stepchildren, grandchildren, and step-grandchildren to receive survivors’ benefits as well.
Parents
  • If the decedent paid for at least half of their parents’ financial support, and the parents are not eligible to receive a retirement benefit higher than what the SSA could pay, parents could receive survivors’ benefits.
  • One surviving parent aged 62 or older could receive 82.5% of the decedent’s full monthly benefits.
  • Two surviving parents aged 62 or older could each receive 75% of the decedent’s full monthly benefits.

Summary

It’s important to understand the potential benefits and options survivors can claim from the Social Security Administration. SSA benefits are important because those benefits affect both the decedent’s estate as well as the survivor’s.

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Kubloss, Inc. (dba EstateGrid) has placed the information on this website as a service to the general public. It is not intended as legal, financial, or health advice or as a substitute for the particularized advice of a qualified professional. It is provided as is without warranty of any kind, either express or implied, including but not limited to, the implied warranties of merchantability, fitness for a particular purpose, or non‐infringement.