Estate Planning Articles

What Happens to Your Social Security Benefits After You Die?

by Alli Thomas

Mar 25, 2021

I admit, the title of this week’s blog post may sound a bit morbid. Still, it’s a question on the minds of many.

It turns out that funeral homes are typically the first to communicate to the Social Security Administration (SSA) that a recipient has died. The SSA even has a dedicated form for funeral directors to use for this purpose.

For those who aren’t using the services of a funeral home, the surviving spouse or executor of the estate should reach out to the SSA to notify it of the death.


Can a Surviving Spouse Keep the Last Benefit Check?

One question survivors often ask is whether they can keep the Social Security payment for the month in which the beneficiary died. For example, if the beneficiary died in July, must the payment for July (which is sent in August) be returned, or can it be kept?

Unfortunately, the answer is no—the benefit must be refunded to the SSA. If the benefit payment comes in the form of a check, it should be returned to the SSA. Never cash a Social Security benefit check for a deceased beneficiary!

If the benefit is paid in the form of a direct deposit to the beneficiary’s bank account, it is important that the executor of the estate notify the bank and request that it be returned. Should the SSA gets wind that something hinky might be happening, it will open a fraud investigation because keeping a deceased beneficiary’s Social Security payments is a federal crime.


What About the Survivor’s Benefit?

If the deceased beneficiary has a surviving spouse or qualifying dependent on their record at the time of death, the monthly benefit will automatically convert to a survivor’s benefit after the SSA receives notification of the death.

However, if the surviving spouse or dependent isn’t on the record at the time of the beneficiary’s death, they must contact the SSA by phone or in person to apply for survivor benefits.

In most cases, the surviving spouse or qualifying dependent will receive a lump-sum death benefit payment of $255.

Do you have a Social Security strategy? Many people don’t, but everyone should. If you’d like to get some guidance or feedback on what the best Social Security strategy is for you, click here to request a no-obligation advisor conversation or browse our advisor directory to contact one in your area.

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Alli Thomas

Alli Thomas has worked in the financial services industry for nearly 20 years, with a focus on retirement-related investing. She began her career as a FINRA-licensed participant-services call-center associate at Vanguard, and then moved to Principal Financial Group, where she worked closely with employers, assisting with retirement plan set-up and design, selecting appropriate plan investment offerings, and maximizing employee participation through targeted education campaigns and enrollment meetings. Alli has also worked as a qualified 401(k) administrator and registered investment advisor for several small investment firms. She now writes about all things investment- and finance-related, leveraging her extensive experience and passion for retirement planning to help investors make well-informed financial decisions.

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