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Social Security Death Benefits - Who, When and How Much

An Overview of Lump Sum and Ongoing Social Security Death Benefits

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Social Security death benefits can be a lifesaver.

Tom Grill/Photographer's Choice RF/Getty Images

Social Security pays out two types of death benefits. The first is a lump sum death benefit of $255. The second is an ongoing monthly death benefit called a survivor benefit.

Lump Sum Social Security Death Benefit

Who is eligible for the Social Security lump sum death benefit of $255?

  • the spouse of the deceased insured worker who is living in the same household
  • the dependent child of the deceased worker who is eligible to receive Social Security benefits based on the worker’s record

The lump sum death benefit is payable as long as the deceased worker was considered to be currently insured, which means they had at least 6 quarters of earnings covered by Social Security withholding during the full 13-quarter period prior to their death.

Who needs to file an application to receive the lump sum death benefit?

  • If the Social Security death benefit is being paid to a widow or widower who is receiving spouse’s benefit, then no application need be filed.
  • If the Social Security death benefit is being paid to an eligible dependent child, then an application must be filed within two years of the insured worker’s death.

Ongoing Monthly Social Security Death Benefit

Who is eligible for an ongoing monthly Social Security death benefit called a survivor benefit?

  • A child of the worker who is under age 18, under age 19 and attending a full-time elementary or high school, or over 18 and disabled before the age of 22.
  • A parent of the deceased worker who is age 62 or older and was dependent upon the worker for support.
  • The mother or father who cares for a dependent child of the deceased worker. The child must be under the age of 16 (or disabled before 22). This mother or father’s benefit is different than a widow or widower’s benefit in that it can be paid to someone of any age, whereas a surviving spouse must be age 60 or older to claim a widow or widower’s benefit.

Benefits to above persons may be paid if the worker was fully insured or currently insured. Currently insured is described earlier in this article. Fully insured is described below.

Benefits to persons below may only be paid if the worker was fully insured, which means they had 40 quarters of work covered by Social Security tax withholding.

Promptly File an Application for Social Security Death Benefits

An application for an ongoing monthly Social Security death benefit should be filed within six months of the worker’s death as no more than six months worth of benefits will be paid retroactively.

How To Apply for a Social Security Survivor Benefit

Reasons You May Not Qualify for an Ongoing Social Security Death Benefit

If you work, remarry, or are eligible for retirement benefits on your own record this could reduce or eliminate your eligibility for an ongoing Social Security death benefit.

Learn more:

How Much In Monthly Social Security Survivor Benefits Will You Get?

Ongoing survivor benefit amounts are based on:

  • the earnings record of the person who is deceased
  • your current age
  • your relationship to the deceased worker

As a rough estimate you could expect to get between 70% and 100% of the amount the deceased worker would have gotten at their Full Retirement Age. Learn more at How Much Would Your Social Security Survivor Benefit Be .

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