Once a person dies, they are no longer eligible for Social Security. Any payments received after the month in which a person dies must be returned to the Social Security Administration (SSA). It's not unusual for checks to be mailed or direct deposited the month after a person dies, but that money cannot be kept.
When Does the Last Social Security Check Arrive?
It's not unusual for social security payments to be issued after someone dies, as there can be a lag between the time a person's death is reported to SSA and stopping direct deposit or check processing. The fact that payment arrives after someone dies doesn't mean that it can be kept. It is important to report a death to Social Security right away and to avoid keeping payments to which the deceased individual is not entitled.
Keep Month-of-Death Payments
Social security pays out benefits one month in arrears. This means that a social security check that arrives in one month is a payment for the previous month. To illustrate:
- The social security check a person receives in January covers the month of December.
- If that person passes away in January, there is no need to return the payment received that month.
- It does not matter if the payment arrives before or after the person dies within the month of January.
- Even if they die on January 1, the payment that arrives that month can be kept because it was for December.
Return All Subsequent Payments
Social Security does not pay any benefits for the month in which a person dies. This means that any payments received the month after a person dies must be returned to the SSA. The same is true for any subsequent payments.
- If a February social security payment is sent to a person who died in January, it cannot be kept.
- This is because the February payment would be for January, the month in which the person died.
- Even if they lived until the last day of January, all funds received in February must be returned.
- The date in January the person passed away is not relevant, as proration is not a factor with social security payments.
Returning Social Security Benefits
Unearned social security checks or direct deposits should be returned through the same method they came in. To return social security benefits that arrive after the month in which a person passes away:
- Direct deposit: Contact the deceased person's bank if they were receiving direct deposits from Social Security. Notify them that any deposits received after the month of death must be returned to SSA.
- Paper checks: Do not cash social security checks that arrive after the month in which a person dies. Return them to the Social Security office listed on the envelope or contact the local SSA office for a return address.
Social Security Death Benefits
Once a person dies, that individual is no longer eligible to receive social security payments. However, in some cases, family members may be eligible for payment. Survivors who believe they may be eligible for Social Security death benefits must apply and be approved. These benefits are never issued in the name of the deceased individual.
Lump-Sum Death Benefit
The lump-sum death benefit (LSDB) is a one-time benefit of $255 that may be used toward the funeral or burial expenses. If the deceased individual has a surviving spouse with whom they were living at the time of their death, the payment goes to that person. Otherwise, the payment may go to:
- A non-cohabitating surviving spouse who was receiving benefits associated with the deceased's Social Security record
- Surviving biological or adopted child (adult or dependent)
Certain individuals may be entitled to receive monthly survivors' benefits based on the deceased person's Social Security record. These benefits are dependent on how long the deceased paid into Social Security and how old they were when they died. Common scenarios in which a person qualifies for survivors' benefits include:
- Surviving spouse over the age of 60 (or over 50 if disabled)
- Individual responsible for caring for the deceased person's child who is under the age of 16
- Child of the deceased who is under 18 (or 18-19 if in high school)
- Dependent parent of the deceased (over the age of 62)
Staying Informed About Social Security
Knowing what to do when a social security payment arrives after the death of a family member can help you better prepare for the subsequent steps you will need to take. Understanding your rights and responsibilities as a survivor can help you receive benefits that can assist with the funeral costs, as well as potential monthly benefits to which you may be entitled.