How to Claim Death Benefits

In addition to life insurance policies, death benefits may be available from a variety of sources. Funeral Directors can help gather the information needed to apply for the applicable death benefits. In most cases, you’ll need a copy of the Death Certificate to file for benefits. Following are common sources of benefits and assistance:

  • Social security survivor benefits
  • Veterans’ burial and survivor benefits
  • Pension / retirement funds
  • Workman’s compensation, if death was work-related
  • Civil service — federal, state, county, local
  • Railroad retirement
  • Teacher’s retirement
  • Miner’s benefits
  • Trade unions
  • Credit unions
  • Fraternal organizations
  • Public aid assistance — state, county, or city.

Social Security Survivors Benefits

Social Security is best known as a retirement program, but Social Security also includes survivor insurance. When a deceased worker has paid into Social Security, certain family members may be eligible for survivor insurance. To be eligible, the deceased worker must have credit for work covered by Social Security, ranging from one and one-half to ten years depending on the age at death.

The amount of benefits paid to survivors depends on the average lifetime earnings of the deceased worker. The higher the earnings, the greater the amount of benefits. However, a survivor’s earnings may reduce the amount he or she is entitled to under Social Security.

Monthly benefits

Eligible survivors include:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled), or at any age if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
  • A divorced widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted ten years, or if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
  • Unmarried children under age 18 and age 19 if they are attending a primary or secondary school full time; and under certain circumstances, benefits can be paid to stepchildren, grandchildren or adopted children.
  • Children who were disabled before reaching 22, as long as they remained disabled.
  • Dependent parent or parents 62 or older.

Lump-Sum Death Payment

A one-time payment of $255 is paid in addition to the monthly cash benefits described above if the deceased worker has sufficient work credits. The lump-sum death payment is paid in the following priority order:

  1. A surviving spouse who lived in the same household as the deceased person at the time of death.
  2. A surviving spouse eligible for social security benefits on the deceased’s earnings record for the month of death.
  3. Children eligible for benefits for the month of death when there is no surviving spouse.

How to Apply

An application must be filed to receive survivor benefits. You may apply at any Social Security office or, if you wish, you may apply by telephone. Just call 1-800-772-1213. Information needed to apply for benefits includes:

  • Death certificate
  • Social security numbers — the deceased, the applicant, dependent children
  • Applicant’s birth certificate
  • Marriage certificate and divorce papers, as applicable
  • W-2 forms or federal self employment tax return for deceased worker for most recent year
  • Bank and account number for direct deposit of benefits.

If you are already receiving benefits as a husband or wife on your spouse’s record when she or he dies, immediately report the death to Social Security to have your payments changed to survivor benefits. If you are receiving benefits on your own work record, complete an application and Social Security will determine if you can receive more under survivor benefits.


About Elder Care Advice blog

Get professional elder care giving advice, advocacy, education and tips for those who care for and about the frail elderly at the ElderCareAdvice blog. We are generously sponsored by Most posts are written by Cathleen V. Carr, unless attributed otherwise. We welcome relevant submissions. Submit your article and by-line for publishing consideration (no promises!) to Havi at, our own editor who will ensure submissions are given the best possible treatment and polish before publication, ensuring a professional level of publication. There is a nominal service fee involved ($45). Allow up to 30 days for publishing.
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