What Are Social Security Death Benefits?

Mourners at a funeral.
A Social Security benefits application.
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  • Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 28 November 2014
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Social Security death benefits are benefits that are provided to the next of kin in the event of the death of the individual who has paid into the United States Social Security system for a number of years. The benefits are generally a carryover of any benefits that would be due to the deceased had he or she continued to live, and are provided to the survivors as part of their continued support and care. There are certain restrictions that apply to these Social Security benefits; if a claimant does not meet those qualifications, then the issuance of benefits will be denied.

One of the most common examples of the extension of Social Security death benefits is in the event of the death of a spouse. In this situation, the widow or widower can draw on the benefits due to the deceased spouse, with some restrictions based on age and health. Currently, the surviving spouse can claim full benefits if he or she has reached the retirement age of sixty-five, enjoy reduced benefits at the age of sixty, or receive full benefits if the surviving spouse is disabled and at least fifty years of age.


Children may also receive Social Security death benefits connected with a deceased parent under certain circumstances. If the child is disabled, he or she can claim the benefits at any age. Unmarried children that are still in high school and under the age of nineteen can also claim death benefits associated with a deceased parent. In some cases, grandchildren, children adopted by the deceased party, or stepchildren may be eligible to draw Social Security death benefits.

There are other situations in which a relative may be able to draw on the Social Security death benefits related to a loved one. When there is any doubt as to the status of the potential recipient, it is a good idea to check with the local Social Security office and determine if there are grounds for filing a claim. In some cases, the benefits may include the ability to enroll in the Social Security Medicare program, and may not be subject to the payment of Social Security taxes. Since the circumstances will determine the scope of the eligibility, it is often a good idea to explore all potential options with the help of an attorney who is well versed in current laws pertaining to the function and structure of Social Security in the United States.

Along with providing ongoing support to the dependants and survivors of the deceased party, Social Security death benefits also include a small stipend that can be used to help defray the costs of burial. Because the current amount of this stipend is very small, most families make some sort of other arrangements to handle the costs of burying the deceased party. These often include options such as prepaid funeral arrangements, or maintaining a burial insurance policy that pays a lump sum once the insurance company has confirmed the passing of the insured party.


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