What To Do When a Social Security Beneficiary Dies

Published on: July 15, 2020

Has a loved one passed away recently in your life? 

Whether he or she was your spouse, parent, or a family member, there are special considerations to take if they were a Social Security beneficiary. The SSA must be notified of a recipient's passing as soon as possible, while children and spouses may be eligible for all or a portion of the deceased’s SSDI benefits.  

Read on more to find out what to do if this situation happens to you and your loved ones. 

How Do I Report the Death of a Social Security Beneficiary? 

When a loved one receiving Social Security disability benefits dies, it’s the survivor’s responsibility to notify the Social Security Administration (SSA) of their passing as soon as possible. In many cases, the funeral home will report deaths to the SSA as part of their services. Funeral directors are even provided with a form for this exact purpose. Additionally, many states have a web-based system called the Electronic Death Registration which notifies the SSA of death information. However, it’s still up to the Social Security beneficiary’s surviving family to contact the SSA.

Surviving loved ones can notify the SSA of a Social Security beneficiary's death through calling them at 800-772-1213 or by contacting a local Social Security office

A Social Security recipient's benefits end in the month of their death. Since a beneficiary must be alive for an entire month to qualify for benefits, there is no final benefit if the recipient dies before the end of the month. If the Social Security beneficiary receives payments after their death, the SSA will require the money to be returned

How Does Social Security Benefits Work When a Spouse Dies?

If your spouse is a Social Security beneficiary and passes away, you as the surviving spouse would become eligible for survivor benefits. The surviving spouse is able to collect 100 percent of the deceased’s Social Security benefits if the beneficiary had reached retirement age (currently 66 years old, but will be increasing to 67). 

If the deceased was at least 60 years old, but not yet at retirement age, then the surviving spouse will receive 71.5% - 99% of their SSDI benefits. 

Additionally, if the spouse of the deceased is at least 50 years old and develops a disability within seven years of their spouse’s death, they are eligible to receive 71.5% of the deceased spouse’s SSDI benefits. This seven year period of eligibility is known as the prescribed period. 

Or, if you care for a child under the age of sixteen who receives survivor benefits from your deceased spouse, then you will receive 75% of their SSDI benefits

In the majority of cases, a spouse will receive the deceased’s Social Security benefits if he or she is at least 60 years old and had been married to the deceased Social Security beneficiary for at least nine months prior to the time of death. However, there are some exceptions: 

  • There is no length-of-marriage requirement if the Social Security beneficiary’s death was an accident or occurred in the line of U.S. military duty.
  • The age requirement doesn’t apply if the surviving widow or widower is caring for children under 16 or disabled
  • The surviving spouse can apply for benefits at 50 years old if they became disabled within seven years of the spouse’s death. 

However, if the widow or widower of a deceased Social Security beneficiary remarries before they turn 60 years old, then they cannot receive the SSDI benefits of the former spouse. 

Divorced Spouses & SSDI Benefits

There is another set of requirements for divorced spouses. If your ex-wife or ex-husband was receiving SSDI benefits before their death, you may be able to receive their benefits. For a surviving ex-spouse to receive benefits they must:

  • Had been married to the deceased ex-spouse for at least ten years.
  • Remain unmarried.
  • Be at least 60 years old, or
  • Be between 50 and 60 years old with a disability that occurred within seven years of the ex-spouse’s death, or
  • Currently taking care of the ex-spouse's' child under sixteen years old who is receiving survivor’s benefits from the ex-spouse. 

If the surviving ex-wife or ex-husband remarries before they reach 60 years old - or before age 50 if they are disabled - they will not be eligible for the ex-spouses’ SSDI benefits. However, if they remarry after they reach 60 years old (or 50 if they are disabled), it will have no effect on their eligibility.   

If My Parent Dies, Can I Collect Their Social Security Benefits? 

Children may qualify for survivor benefits if their parent dies and is a Social Security beneficiary. For children to qualify for Social Security payments after the death of their parent, they must meet these requirements:

  • If they are unmarried;
  • Under eighteen years old;
  • If they are eighteen or nineteen years old and still a full-time high school student;
  • If they are disabled, or have a disability occur before the child turns 22. 

Depending on the situation, grandchildren, stepchildren, and even step-grandchildren may also be eligible to receive survivor benefits. The payment received would be 75% of the deceased parent’s (or grandparent’s) SSDI benefits. 

Remember that children must be unmarried to receive survivor benefits. In most circumstances, children automatically lose their eligibility once they marry. However, there are some exceptions for adult children with disabilities

If you’re the child or spouse of a deceased Social Security beneficiary and have questions about SSDI benefits, or just looking for more information about the Social Security disability benefits process, please contact a skilled disability expert. Disability advocates can help you navigate the SSDI and SSI process, especially during a difficult time when you lose a loved one. Advocates will make the process as painless as possible, so you can receive the compensation you deserve and live your life to the fullest.


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