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What Happens to Social Security Payments after a Person Dies?

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The Social Security Administration should be notified as soon as possible after a beneficiary dies. Depending on your relationship to the deceased, you may be entitled to benefits for survivors.

How does the federal government know to stop sending Social Security payments when a recipient has died? What if the surviving spouse or a dependent doesn’t know they are entitled to benefits after a loved one has died?

Tackling this issue when an older person or spouse has died can be complicated.

The Social Security Administration needs to be notified of the death of a benefit recipient as soon as possible. In some cases, funeral homes have a notification process, and they report the death. The person who has been named as the deceased’s executor can also call Social Security.

Whoever calls or contacts the Social Security Administration will need to know the decedent’s Social Security number.

The last month a person is eligible for Social Security benefits is the month prior to their death. Any benefit paid after the month of their death must be refunded. That’s because each payment received represents the previous month’s benefits. If a person dies in August—even if they die on August 31—July is the last month they were eligible for benefits.

If benefits are made by direct deposit, the bank needs to be notified, so it can return the benefit. Using those funds after a recipient has died is a federal crime, even if the death is not reported. If the SSA receives notice of this occurring, the agency may initiate a criminal investigation. The SSA and other government agencies coordinate their records to identify any unreported deaths.

Anyone already receiving money based on the deceased’s record will automatically convert to survivor benefits, once the SSA receives notice of the death. However, in other cases, the surviving spouse should contact SSA to apply for survivors’ benefits. This must be done by appointment in person at a local office, since it cannot be done online.

If the surviving spouse has reached full retirement age, they can get their deceased spouse’s full benefit. They can apply for reduced benefits as early as age 60 or age 50, if they are disabled. If the survivor qualifies for Social Security on their own earnings record, they can switch to their own benefit anytime between ages 62 and 70, if the benefit amount would be greater.

There is usually a one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 given to a surviving spouse or qualified child.

Reference: CNBC (Aug. 16, 2021) “Here’s what happens to Social Security payments when you die”

Suggested Key Terms: Social Security Administration, Beneficiaries, Surviving Spouse, Death Benefit, Full Retirement Age, Survivors’ Benefits, Direct Deposit, SSA, Executor