With tens of millions of Americans participating in one or more benefits programs offered by the Social Security Administration (SSA), it is safe to say that Social Security programs are among the most widely used benefits accessible to United States citizens.
While SSA is widely known as a retirement program, it also provides important life insurance and disability insurance protection.
As part of helping the survivors handle the financial challenges they face when their loved one passes away, Social Security may offer a funeral grant to qualifying survivors.
In this post, you will find everything you need to know about Social Security funeral benefits.
What are Social Security funeral benefits?
When a loved one dies, the survivors not only deal with the emotional aspect of handling death but also the financial aspect.
If the loved one had worked long enough under Social Security to qualify for benefits, SSA will pay a death benefit to the eligible survivors of the beneficiary.
That said, Social Security funeral benefit is a one-time lump sum of money paid to assist with the funeral expenses of an insured person. The benefits are also known as lump-sum death payments.
If the surviving spouse or child of the Social Security beneficiary meets certain requirements, they may receive the death benefit, which is set at $255.
Who can receive Social Security funeral benefits?
First off, it is worth noting that Social Security rules can be very complicated, and the decedent’s benefits usually stop at death.
In other words, if a loved one was receiving Social Security benefits before dying, you must return the benefits received for the month of death and any later months.
This can be done by returning received checks to Social Security or requesting the financial institution that received the funds to return them to Social Security.
As for getting death benefits, who qualifies and how to get the benefits depends on a number of factors.
When a person passes away, it is common sense and extremely important to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible after the person dies.
In most cases, funeral homes will help in notifying SSA about the person’s death, after which Social Security processes the payments and makes them available to eligible survivors.
For the most part, to be eligible for Social Security lump-sum death payment, you must be living in the same household with the insured worker when he or she died.
Priority of Social Security
Priority usually goes to a widow or widower who was living with the deceased at the time of death.
The surviving spouse may receive the funeral benefits if they were living apart from the deceased but collecting spousal benefits or eligible for survivor benefits of the deceased’s earning records.
Further, the widow or widower should be aged 60 or older or age 50 with a qualifying disability.
A surviving spouse of any age who is caring for the deceased’s child under the age of 16 or disabled is also eligible for Social Security death benefits.
Well, if there is no eligible widow or widower, the death benefits can be paid to the deceased’s child (ren), especially if the child was already receiving benefits on the deceased’s records.
For a child to qualify for Social Security funeral benefits, he or she should be unmarried and younger than 18 years or a 19-year-old full-time student who is still in elementary or secondary school.
Children older than 18 years can only qualify if they have a qualifying disability that began before they were 22 years old.
In certain cases, death benefits can be paid to a stepchild, grandchildren, stepgrandchildren, or adopted children.
Social Security can also pay the funeral benefits to the beneficiary’s parents, who are 62 years or older and were dependent on the deceased for more than half of their financial support.
Notably, the death benefits will be automatically paid to the qualifying spouse or child if he or she was already receiving family benefits on the deceased’s records.
Of significance, Social Security funeral benefits should not be confused with Social Security Survivors’ benefits.
While a funeral benefit is a one-time payment to help with the cost of a funeral, survivor benefits refer to ongoing payments meant to support any dependents of a Social Security beneficiary who are left without their support.
They are made to the surviving spouse, ex-spouse, children, or, under certain circumstances, the parents. As such, survivor benefits will continue to be paid every month, provided the recipient remains eligible.
What happens if nobody is eligible?
In rare cases, there might be nobody eligible to receive Social Security death benefits.
If the beneficiary dies and no one on their earnings record is eligible for the lump-sum death payment, the Social Security Administration attempts to find a next of kin who might qualify.
The death benefits may be made to any next of kin found; otherwise, Social Security will not make any payments.
How to apply for Social Security funeral benefits?
If you are not already receiving Social Security benefits, it is advisable that you apply for SSI immediately after the loved one passes away. After all, funeral benefits cannot be paid until you apply.
Thankfully, applying for Social Security benefits is relatively easy. You can apply at any Social Security office or by telephone. You will be expected to carry with you some documents that will prove your eligibility.
Here are the documents you need to apply for lump-sum death payment:
- Your birth certificate or any other proof of birth
- Your Social Security number
- Your marriage certificate if you are applying as widow or widower or divorce papers if you’re divorced
- Proof for lawful US citizenship or alien status if you were not born in the U.S.
- If you had military service before 1968, you will need to provide the military discharge papers.
- Any current deceased worker’s W-2 forms or the most recent federal self-employment tax return
- Deceased workers’ death certificate
- Social Security number of deceased.
Importantly, Social Security may accept photocopies of W-2 forms and self-employment forms. However, the other documents must be original, and they will be returned to you after verification.
Some of the questions you will need to answer when applying for benefits
For the process to go on smoothly, you will be expected to answer the following correctly;
- Your name
- Your social security number
- The deceased place and date of death
- Whether the deceased ever filed for Social Security benefits. If yes, information about the person who he or she filed for Social Security will be needed.
- If the deceased was ever an active member of the military service. If yes, you will be asked to provide the exact dates of service.
- Was the deceased unable to work in 14 months due to injuries or health conditions that led to his or her death? If the answer is yes, you will have to additionally state the exact time when the deceased became unable to work.
- Did the deceased work for the railroad industry for more than seven years?
- Did the deceased earn Social Security benefits in another country’s system?
- The name, age, and Social Security number of the deceased former spouses and dates of their marriage starting and ending.
- The names of the deceased unmarried children, the underage, those in elementary and secondary school, and those disabled before attaining 22 years.
- The total earnings of the deceased in the year they died and the previous year.
- Did the deceased have a surviving wife or husband with whom they were living together at the time of death?
- Did the deceased have a parent depending on him or her for at least half of their total financial support at the time of the worker’s death?
If you are a surviving spouse of the deceased, you will also be expected to answer the following questions.
- Have you been unable to work because of injuries or illness in the past 14 months? If yes, you will have to state the exact date when you stopped working.
- Did someone else ever file for Social Security benefits on your behalf, the Medicare and the Supplemental Security Income? If the answer is yes, then information on that record will be expected.
- The name, date of birth or age, and the Social security numbers of your former spouses and how it was when the marriage ended.
What Can Social Security Funeral Benefits Be Used For?
Social Security funeral benefits come as a lump sum one-time payment to the survivor to assist any funeral cost that may arise. However, the assignee has the freedom to use the money in any other way they wish.
At its enactment in 1935, Social Security Funeral benefit was at the value of $255; this is close to $2,500 in 2020 after persistent depreciation in the money value.
At that time, the amount was enough to pay for literally all the funeral expenses of the working-class Americans. However, the Social Security Administration has continued to pay the 255 dollars even after several years of inflation.
The amount is very little to cover for funeral costs of a middle-class citizen, and thus, the survivors are free to use it in the way they think best.
In most cases, the survivors will use a few dollars for part of the funeral cost and add on more from their pockets or from the funeral insurance policies of the deceased to cover the remaining part of the burial costs.
Some states have gone the extra mile to help citizens with funeral and burial costs. For example, the state of Illinois pays the survivors of a low-income earner a one-time benefit of $1,103 to pay for some funeral costs. Other states, counties, and cities have an almost similar program for their residents.
Additionally, many states offer a chance for the grieved family to freely offer the body of their loved ones for medical science.
The body is carefully handled and with a lot of respect to do more research on medical-related issues and later cremated at no cost.
The survivors, in this case, will still apply for and receive the funeral benefits but will not use them for burial expenses.
More information you need to know about Social Security funeral benefits
There are limits on how much survivors will be paid while they are still receiving benefits. Typically, receiving death benefits as a widow, widower, or divorced living spouse are affected by a number of factors such as:
- If you remarry before age 60, you will not receive benefits as a surviving spouse while you are married.
- If you remarry after age 60, you will continue receiving the benefits of your deceased spouse.
- If your current spouse is a Social Security beneficiary, you may want to apply for spouses benefits on their record.
If you receive benefits as a widow or widower, you have the freedom to switch your own retirement benefit as early as age 62. This assumes you are eligible for retirement benefits.
Additionally, it shows that you have a higher retirement rate than your rate as a widow, surviving divorced spouse, or widower.
In some cases, a widow or widower will start receiving lower rates of benefits and then switch to the other retirement benefits.
Pension based on work not covered by Social Security benefits affects the benefits you get as a survivor. This may include foreign or government work.
Although death benefits usually end at the event of death, Social Security may pay funeral benefits to survivors of Social Security beneficiaries.
The funeral benefits is a one-time payment that is primarily meant to cover expenses associated with the funeral of the deceased beneficiary.
Social Security funeral benefits, however, should not be confused with survivor benefits, a type of ongoing payment made to the beneficiary’s dependents to help cover routine expenses.
If you are the next of kin of a Social Security beneficiary and are not sure if you are eligible to get death benefits, you can contact Social Security to enquire. You may also contact Social Security by phone at 1-800-772-1213.