How to Wrap Up Social Security Benefits When a Loved One Passes

Chad Birt

Written by Chad Birt on Fri Nov 18 2022.

When a loved one passes away, there’s a lot to consider. With so much to do, it can be easy to forget one of your most important responsibilities –– reporting your loved one’s passing to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Fortunately, the process is relatively easy. This article explains how to get the ball rolling, whether you’re a surviving spouse, child, or parent.

When a loved one passes away, there’s a lot to consider. You need to plan for the memorial service and burial, pay outstanding bills, and determine what to do with their remaining possessions. 

With so much to do, it can be easy to forget one of your most important responsibilities –– reporting your loved one’s passing to the Social Security Administration (SSA). Fortunately, the process is relatively easy. This article explains how to get the ball rolling, whether you’re a surviving spouse, child, or parent.

What happens to Social Security after someone passes?

If your loved one has died, the federal Social Security Administration requires that monthly checks stop. As a caregiver, it is up to your loved one’s family to report their death quickly so that the government can end the process of direct depositing or mailing checks. In some cases, a loved one, such as a spouse or living children, might be eligible for a survivor's benefit.

What are the rules about Social Security checks after death?

The rules for Social Security checks after death are simple to follow. They are:

  1. If a check for your deceased loved one arrives for the month in which they died, survivors are not allowed to cash it or to use the funds in cases of direct deposit. For example, if your loved one died in November, their check for that month would normally arrive in December. You are not allowed to cash this check. Funds must be returned.

  2. Checks for a deceased loved one are not prorated. In other words, you, as a caregiver or another spouse or child of your deceased loved one, cannot get partial payment for the month in which your loved one died. All of the payments must be stopped or returned if you are unable to contact Social Security before the check arrives.

How do I report my loved one’s passing to social security?

Funeral directors typically complete and submit Form SSA-721 (Statement of Death) as part of their basic services. Still, it’s your responsibility as the primary caretaker or representative payee to make sure the Social Security Administration is aware of your loved one’s death. 

It’s a good idea to follow up with the SSA even if you submit your loved one’s social security information to the funeral director. There are two ways to do this:

  • Call the Social Security Administration: The SSA’s survivor benefits line is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m. Call 1 (800) 772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778). 

  • Contact your local Social Security office: If the line is busy or you have specific questions, contact your local Social Security office. The online Social Security Office Locator tool makes this process easy. Enter your zip code in the search bar and click the “locate” button.

What documents are needed to report a death to Social Security?

You don’t need any paperwork to report a loved one’s death to Social Security. The best option is to ask your loved one’s funeral home to report their death on your behalf. They will complete the necessary documentation.

Social Security provides funeral homes with a statement of death form to complete. This allows your loved one’s funeral home to complete the process. The form includes these kinds of details about your loved one:

  • First, middle, and last name

  • Any nicknames, if applicable

  • Dates of birth and death

  • Locations of birth and death

  • Social Security Number

  • Social Security Number and mailing address of surviving spouse, if applicable

  • Surviving children’s names, including any minors or children with disabilities

Your loved one’s funeral home will then sign and date the form, including their phone number and address. They will then submit the form to the local Social Security office.

What is the social security “burial benefit” or “death benefit”?

The social security “burial benefit” or “death benefit” is a one-time payment of $255. The amount is given to the surviving spouse who was living with the person who passed or collecting social security benefits on their record. If there isn’t a surviving spouse, the money goes to any child who qualifies for the benefits, according to the deceased’s records.

What if my loved one continues receiving social security benefits after their death?

After you report your loved one’s death to the SSA, it may take several months for the information to be processed. Even so, it’s crucial to investigate if you continue receiving benefits. SS recipients aren’t due payment the month of their death, so you must refund any money received after their passing.

Here’s what to do, depending on how you get the funds:

  • Direct deposits. Contact your bank or financial institution immediately if you receive a social security deposit after your loved one’s death. Explain that the recipient has passed and ask them to return the money to the SSA.

  • Checks. If checks continue arriving in the mail, don’t cash them. Instead, collect and drop them off at your local SSA office. Depositing it into the bank or using the funds could result in severe penalties or fines. 

Do monthly social security benefits always need to be canceled?

No. Under the SSA’s guidelines, certain family members are eligible for monthly Social Security benefits, even after death. Family members who qualify include:

  • Widowers and widows age 60 and older (age 50 or older with a disability)

  • A surviving divorcee (under certain circumstances)

  • A widower or widower caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16 or has a disability

  • An unmarried child who is younger than 18; or 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22

  • Stepchildren, grandchildren, and adopted children

  • Parents aged 62 or older who were dependent on the deceased for at least  50% of their support

What if I still have questions about wrapping up social security benefits?

Wrapping up social security benefits after a loved one passes can be overwhelming, but you don’t have to do it alone. The Social Security Administration has a list of more than 200 frequently asked questions highlighting some of the most common inquiries. 

If you can’t find what you’re looking for there, call 1-800-772-1213 between 8:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday. The line is often busy in the morning, but you can avoid long hold times by calling in the evening or toward the end of the week. 

If you’re deaf or hard of hearing and use a teletypewriter (TTY), call 1-800-325-0778. 

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Chad Birt
Chad Birt

Chad Birt is a freelance medical writer who resides in Astoria, Oregon. When he isn't behind a keyboard, you can find him hiking, camping, or birdwatching with his wife Ella and their two dogs, Diane and Thoreau.