What happen to social security benefits after your death

Social Security retirement benefits provide guaranteed monthly income for the duration of your retirement. But when you die, your checks stop coming.


There are some key takeaways to know about what happens to Social Security benefits in the event you or a loved one passes away.

1.      There is a one-time death payment.

2.      Benefits for the month of death must be returned.

3.      Surviving spouses, others may be entitled to benefits.


1.      There is a one-time death payment.

A one-time lump-sum death payment of $255 may be available, provided certain requirements are met. For example, a surviving spouse may be eligible for the death payment if they were living with the person who passes away. If the spouse was living apart from the deceased but was receiving Social Security benefits based on their record, they may also be eligible for the $255 sum.


If there is no surviving spouse, children of the deceased may instead be eligible for the payment, so long as they qualify to receive benefits on their deceased parent’s record when they died.


The Social Security Administration should be notified as soon as possible when a beneficiary dies to cancel their benefits.


2.      Benefits for the month of death must be returned.

Though a one-time death payment may be available, any benefit payments received by the deceased in the month of death or after must be returned, according to the Social Security Administration. However, how this rule is handled depends on the timing of the death.

Social Security checks are paid for the benefits earned the month before. The schedule of the monthly Social Security payments depends on a beneficiary’s date of birth, and mostly falls on either the second, third or fourth Wednesday. If someone receives their monthly Social Security payment and then dies, the Social Security Administration may not take the money back. But if instead the beneficiary dies and then receives their monthly Social Security check, it may have to be paid back.


The Social Security Administration cautions against cashing any checks or keeping direct deposits received in the month of death or later. If a deceased beneficiary was due a Social Security check or a Medicare premium refund when they died, a claim may be submitted to the Social Security Administration.


3.      Surviving spouses, others may be entitled to benefits.

Certain family members may be eligible to receive survivor benefits based on the deceased beneficiary’s earnings record starting as soon as the month they died, according to the Social Security Administration. That may include a surviving spouse aged 60 or older. When both spouses have claimed Social Security benefits and one dies, the rule of thumb is the larger benefit continues and the smaller benefit goes away. But there can be pitfalls, particularly for couples who have been together for years but never married. Some states will treat those unions as common law marriages, which are recognized by the Social Security Administration. However, other states may have no such arrangements, which means survivor benefits would not be available to the living partner should their significant other die. Another pitfall may emerge for younger widows who remarry at age 59, for example.

If instead someone remarries after age 60, they are still entitled to a survivor benefit from a deceased spouse.


Others who may be eligible for benefits on a deceased beneficiary’s record include:

-          A surviving spouse 50 or older who has a disability.

-          A surviving divorced spouse if they meet certain qualifications.

-          A surviving spouse who is caring for a deceased’s child under age 16 or who has a disability.

-          An unmarried child of the deceased who is under 18, or up to 19 if they are a full-time elementary or secondary school student, or age 18 and older with a disability that began before age 22.


A family maximum limits how much can be collected when there are multiple family members claiming on one record, such as a surviving mother and three children. However, this rarely affects retirees, because they do not count as part of a family maximum.


Additionally, in some cases an earnings test threshold may offset the amount of benefits you receive if you also have earned income.