A Survivor’s Guide to Social Security


Social Security survivor’s benefits help ease the financial burden that follows a worker’s death. Almost all children under the age of 18 will get monthly benefits if a working parent dies. Other family members may be eligible for benefits too.

Anyone who has worked and paid Social Security (FICA) taxes has been earning Social Security benefits for his or her family. The amount of work needed to pay survivor’s benefits depends on the worker’s age at the time of death. It may be as little as 1.5 years for a young worker. No one needs more than 10 years.

Who Can Get Survivor’s Benefits?

A Special One-Time Payment

In addition to the monthly benefits for family members, a one-time payment of $255 can be paid to a spouse who was living with the worker at the time of death. If there is none, it can be paid to children who are eligible for benefits.

How to Apply for Benefits

You can apply for benefits by phone or by going to any Social Security office. Don’t delay your application if you don’t have all the information. If you don’t have a document you need, Social Security can help you get it.

Information Needed

Reporting the Death

If your loved one was receiving benefits, you need to contact the Social Security Administration to report the death. (A Sacred Moment, as the funeral home, is also required to notify them.)

You must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months. If benefits were paid by direct deposit, notify 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.

For More Information

For more information, write or visit any Social Security office, or call 1-800-772-1213 (for the deaf or hard of hearing, call the TTY number, 1-800-325-0778). Specific questions can be answered weekdays from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. You may also visit the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov and click on the survivors tab.