Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Social Security Benefits

Written By Attorney Erin L. Nunes, Esq., Partner

Q:  Mary asks, “My husband passed away last month. How do I handle notifying Social Security that he has passed?”

A: Social Security should be notified as soon as possible when a person dies. In most cases, the funeral director will report the person’s death to Social Security. You will need to furnish the funeral director with the deceased’s Social Security number so he or she can make the report. If the funeral home did not provide this service or you did not take advantage of that service, to report a death, you may contact your local Social Security office or call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). You can speak to a Social Security representative between 7 AM and 7 PM Monday through Friday. You cannot report a death online.

As the surviving spouse, you may be able to receive a one-time payment of $255 if you were living with the deceased; or, if living apart, were receiving certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record. If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months. For example, if the person dies

in July, you must return the benefit paid in August. If benefits were paid by direct deposit, contact the bank or other financial institution. Request that any funds received for the month of death or later be returned to Social Security. If the benefits were paid by check, do not cash any checks received for the month in which the person dies or later. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible.

If you are not currently getting Social Security benefits, you should apply for survivors’ benefits right away because, in some cases, benefits will be paid from the time you apply and not retroactively from the time the worker died. You can apply by telephone or at any Social Security office. Social Security will need certain information, including:

  • Proof of death—either from a funeral home or death certificate.
  • Your Social Security number, as well as the deceased worker’s.
  • Your birth certificate.
  • Your marriage certificate if you are a widow or widower; and
  • The name of your bank, account number, and routing number so that any benefits you may receive can be direct deposited into your account.

If you are already getting Social Security benefits as a wife or husband based on your spouse’s work, when you report the death, Social Security will change your payments to survivors benefits. If you are getting benefits based on your own work, you will need to call Social Security or contact your local office to see if you can receive greater income as a widow or widower. If so, you will receive a combination of benefits that equals the higher amount.

Q: Mary then asks, “How much will I receive?”

A: The benefit amount is based on the earnings of the person who died. The more the worker paid into Social Security, the greater your benefits will be. Social Security uses the deceased worker’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage survivors are entitled to. The percentage depends on the survivors’ ages and relationship to the worker. If the person who died was receiving reduced benefits, your survivor’s benefit is based on that amount. Social Security identifies these as three of the most typical situations:

  • A widow or widower, at full retirement age or older, generally receives 100 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount;
  • A widow or widower, age 60 or older, but under full retirement age, receives about 71-99 percent of the worker’s basic benefit amount; or
  • A widow or widower, any age, with a child younger than age 16, receives 75 percent of 
  • the worker’s benefit amount.

If you have questions about how to make the most your income and preserve assets in the wake of a loved one’s passing, please contact our office to schedule a consultation at 508-994-5200.