Commonly Asked Questions Concerning Social Security Benefits

Q.  Do I have to notify SSA after the death and how do I accomplish that?
A.   As part of our service to you, Woodlawn Funeral Home will notify the Social Security Administration of the death of your family member and provide his or her social security number. If you wish to do it yourself, you may call 1-800-772-1213 from 7:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Monday through Friday.  You should have the decedent’s social security number ready when you call.

Q.   Are we entitled to cash the social security retirement checks that are paid after the death of our family member?
A.   Probably not.  Most families are surprised to learn that social security retirement benefits are paid in arrears and that a social security recipient must live the entire month to be entitled to the monthly payment.  In accordance with Social Security law (42 USC § 402(a)(3)), old age benefits are not paid to a recipient in the month in which the recipient dies.  For example, if your family member died on April 29, his or her check for April would be issued in May by SSA.  However, that check would have to be returned to SSA because the family member did not live for the entire month of April.  SSA does not pro-rate retirement payments.  If the social security recipient does not live for the entire month, he or she is not entitled to any part of the payment for that month.

Q.   What should we do if a retirement payment is made by SSA after the death of our family member?

A.   If the recipient was not entitled to the payment because he or she did not live for the entire month, the check should be returned to SSA.  Any uncashed checks may be returned directly to the local field office of SSA.  If the payments were made by direct deposit, you should notify the bank of your family member’s death and request that the bank return any funds received for the month of death or thereafter. 

Q.  Does Social Security pay a death benefit?

A.  Yes.  The Social Security program does pay a one-time lump-sum death benefit of $255 to the spouse or children of a decedent who qualify for the death benefit.  The death benefit is paid to the surviving spouse living with the decedent or, if there is no surviving spouse, the payment is made to an eligible child of the decedent.  In order to qualify, the decedent must have worked long enough to be insured under the Social Security law.  However, it is not necessary that the decedent was already collecting social security benefits.  The lump-sum death benefit is available to survivors of workers as well as social security recipients.

Q.  How do I apply for the lump-sum death benefit?
A.  You may apply by phone at 1-800-772-1213 or in person at the local SSA office.  You must apply within two years of the date of death. 

Q.  Are there any other survivor benefits other than the one-time lump-sum death benefit?
A.  Yes.  There are monthly social security survivor benefits which may be payable to widow, widowers, children and dependent parents of the decedent.  The monthly survivor benefit is also known as “survivors insurance.”  To be eligible for survivor benefits, the decedent must have worked and earned credit toward those social security benefits.  The number of years required to have worked depends on the age of the deceased family member. 

Q.  Who is eligible to receive social security survivor benefits?
A.  The following individuals may qualify for social security survivor benefits:
A widow or widower, beginning at age 50 if disabled or 60 if not disabled;
A widow or widower who is caring for the decedent’s child under the age of 16, regardless of the age of the widow or widower;
Unmarried children of the decedent who qualify if they are under age 18 (or age 22 if they are disabled);
In some cases, even grandchildren, stepchildren, or adopted children may qualify for survivor benefits;
An ex-spouse may qualify if the spouse and the decedent were married for at least ten years and the surviving ex-spouse is age 60 or older when the decedent dies (or age 50 or older if the surviving spouse is disabled).

Q.  How do I apply for survivors benefits?
A.  You should visit the nearest SSA office or call SSA at 1-800-772-1213.  You should apply as soon as possible since benefits do not start until the application has been processed.  To apply, you will need the following information and documents:
Proof of death in the way of a death certificate or other proof from the funeral home;
Your social security number and the decedent’s social security number;
Your birth certificate, marriage certificate if married, and divorce papers if you are divorced;
Income information for the decedent (Form W-2s or income tax returns) for the most recent year;
Dependent children’s social security number(s) if available and birth certificates;
The name of your bank and the account numbers so that benefits can be deposited directly into your account.

Q.  Where is the nearest local Social Security office?
A.  The nearest Social Security office is located at 609 Cotton Blossom Circle, Gastonia, NC 28054.

Following a death, questions often arise about notifying the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) about the death and how to apply for the lump-sum death benefit and survivor benefits.  To assist our families, we are providing the information below which was compiled from the SSA website (  Please note that this information is based upon the SSA website and may be subject to change.  Please consult the Social Security office or your attorney for advice on your particular claim.

Woodlawn Funeral Home