The Social Security Administration (SSA) is generally an extremely difficult entity to communicate with, especially around the death of a spouse. Family members may have a difficult time making sense of how the SSA handles the final payments of retirement benefits and death benefits, especially if they get conflicting information from letters received by the SSA after the spouse’s death.
If your deceased spouse was receiving Social Security Retirement benefits at their death, then the SSA will continue making these payments until they are notified of the death. Typically, the funeral home will take care of this notification and once the SSA receives it, they will begin processing their death of a recipient workflow.
Benefits are Paid a Month Behind
One fundamental fact regarding benefits that is directly related to a deceased spouse’s last benefit is that Social Security Retirement benefits are paid a month behind. As an example, a person receiving retirement benefits from Social Security will receive the benefit that they earned for the month of January in the month of February.
Must Live the Entire Month
An individual must be alive the entire month to be eligible to receive benefits for that month. As an example, to be eligible for benefits for the month of January, a person must be alive at 12:00am on February 1st. If the death certificate shows a date of death that is in January, then that person is not eligible for January’s benefit.
Must be Alive at Time of Payment
In order for the deceased spouse to be eligible to receive and keep a benefit in their estate, he or she must have been alive when that month’s Social Security Retirement benefit was paid. For example, if Steve received his February Social Security Retirement benefit (earned for the month of January) on February 10th and Steve died on February 20th of the month, then Steve was alive at the time that he received his retirement benefit. In this case, the estate would keep the funds and the SSA would not attempt to take them back. If, however, Steve died on February 5th BEFORE his February Social Security Retirement benefit (earned for the month of January) was paid on February 10th, then Steve’s estate would not be entitled to keep the funds. This is true even if the SSA is notified of Steve’s death in a timely manner and they still make the payment to Steve on February 10th because they didn’t have enough time to process the stop-payment.
Social Security Payment Recoupments after Death
When a person dies before their regular Social Security benefit payment date, this creates a situation where the payment must be paid back, but only temporarily. As in the previous example where Steve died on February 5th and his regular payment date was February 10th, the SSA will either withhold the February payment (if they have been notified of the decedent’s death in time) or if the deposit has already been made, the SSA will require that the bank return it. The person(s) entitled to the final benefit payment will be made according to the SSA rules which includes the widow/widower, children, parents and estate of the deceased. An SSA-1724 must be completed and sent to the SSA in order for the rightful person to get the final benefit payment.
Lump-Sum Death Payment
A surviving spouse or child may receive a special lump-sum death payment of $255 if they meet certain requirements. Generally, if the surviving spouse or child was living in the same household with the deceased and were already receiving benefits on this person’s social security record, or qualify to receive benefits on their record, then they would be eligible for the benefits. This special death benefit is something that the funeral home generally coordinates.
Spousal Retirement Benefit Payments Going Forward
The widow or widower is eligible to receive survivor benefits on their deceased spouses Social Security benefit. The amount of the benefit depends on their age and their dependents and ranges from 71.5% to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit. More information on this topic can be found here or by contacting the SSA directly.
It’s never easy coping with the death of a spouse, let alone also handling the complexities of the Social Security payments that come with it. But knowing the rules of how Social Security payments are made can make handling this at least a little easier.
If you need assistance understanding your own Social Security benefits, or with your overall financial planning, we encourage you to reach out to our team.