Social Security Benefits

Many people think of Social Security only as a retirement program. But some of the Social Security taxes you pay go toward providing survivors insurance for workers and their families. In fact, the value of the survivors insurance you have under Social Security is probably more than the value of your individual life insurance.

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 died or later. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible.

However, eligible family members may be able to receive death benefits for the month in which the beneficiary died.

Survivor Benefits

When you die, certain members of your family may be eligible for survivors benefits. These include widows, widowers (and divorced widows and widowers), children and dependent parents.

How do I earn survivors insurance?

As you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn credits toward your Social Security benefits. The number of years you need to work for your family to be eligible for Social Security survivors benefits depends on your age when you die. The younger you are, the fewer years you need to work. But no one needs more than 10 years (40 quarters) of work to be eligible for any Social Security benefit.

Eligible Survivors

Individuals who are eligible for monthly survivors benefits are:

• Surviving spouses who are 60 or older

• Disabled, surviving spouses that are 50 or older

• Spouses under age 60 who care for a dependent child who is under age 16 or disabled

• Surviving divorced spouses, if the marriage lasted more than ten years and/or the divorced spouse is caring for an entitled child who is under age 16 or disabled

• Unmarried, surviving children, under age 18 (19 if attending primary or secondary school full time)

• Disabled, surviving children who were disabled before age 22; for as long as disabled

• Dependent parent(s) age 62 or older, who are receiving at least one-half support from the deceased child and are entitled to either no benefits of their own or less benefits than the deceased child.

Lump-Sum Death Benefit

In addition to the monthly benefits outlined above, Social Security pays one person a one-time Lump-Sum Death Payment (LSDP) of $255 under certain conditions. The payment is made in the following priority order:

• A surviving spouse who lived in the same household as the deceased at the time of death

• A surviving spouse who is eligible for benefits in the month of death

• A surviving child who is eligible for benefits in the month of death

Contacting Social Security

We recommend that you contact Social Security so that a Social Security representative can tell you what benefits may be available. You can apply for benefits several ways:

• Visit your local Social Security Office

• Online at

• Phone 1-800-772-1213 between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00 p.m. Monday - Friday

• If you are deaf or hard of hearing call 1-800-325-0778 between 7:00 a.m. and 7:00p.m. Monday - Friday

On weekends and holidays, you may call and leave a message and someone will call you back, in most cases, the next business day. You may use the toll-free number to make an appointment either in a Social Security office or by telephone to apply for benefits, transact other Social Security business, or just ask questions.