Social Security Benefits – When a Family Member Dies

How to handle that final check.

We frequently hear from clients after their spouse has passed away, wondering if they have to return the final Social Security benefit paid to their spouse. It can be a confusing process to figure out Social Security rules, but in this case, the guideline is quite simple, although it can feel unfair.

Here are two things to remember:

  • Social Security benefits are paid a month behind. For example, the check you receive in December is November’s benefit.
  • A person must live the entire month to receive the benefits for that month, per Social Security regulations.

For example, if your husband passed away on December 20th, his estate is entitled to keep the Social Security payment that arrived in December. The payment arriving in December is for November’s benefit, since benefits are paid a month behind.

However, his estate is not entitled to keep the December benefits that would be paid in January, since he did not live the full month of December. In fact, if he dies anytime within the month of December, even if he passes away on December 31st, his estate is not entitled to December benefits. Putting it simply, the estate will receive a check from Social Security for the last full month that he lived.

What happens if you receive an extra monthly benefit?

In many cases, the funeral home will report the person’s death to Social Security, but if Social Security was not notified prior to the payment being processed, you may receive an extra payment. If the funds are directly deposited into your bank account, you can contact the bank and request that the funds be returned to Social Security. If you receive a paper check, you should return the check to Social Security and do not cash it. To report a death or to apply for benefits, you can call 1-800-772-1213.

As the surviving spouse or as a minor child, you may be eligible for a one-time death benefit of $255. Some spouses are also entitled to widow or widower benefits, although additional regulations apply. However, knowing at least the basic regulations can help you make some sense in a confusing system! We are here to help if you have additional questions.

Tom Packer is an Elder Law Attorney serving all of Southeast Idaho. As part of his law practice, Tom offers Life Care Planning to deal with the challenges created by long-term illness, disability and incapacity.  If you have a question about a Senior’s legal, financial or healthcare needs, please call us.

November 2018