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Can You Collect Your Parents' Social Security When They Die?

By Larry Li

August 30, 2022


Dealing with the death of a parent is one of the most difficult challenges we face in life. In addition to grieving and cherishing their memory, you also need to handle their post-mortem financial obligations.

So can you collect your parents’ Social Security when they die?  You cannot collect your parents’ Social Security when they pass away. Instead, you can apply for survivor benefits if you fit the requirements. You need to be an unmarried child of the deceased, either younger than 18 or older than 18, with a disability that began before age 22. 

In most cases, you can’t directly inherit your parents’ Social Security benefits. Instead, there are programs the government offers that can give you the assistance you need. Therefore, make sure to keep reading, so you know how to access your survivor benefits.

In today’s guide, you’ll learn:

  • What happens to Social Security when someone dies

  • How Social Security survivor benefits work

  • Who qualifies for Social Security survivor benefits

  • How Social Security benefits are calculated

  • What are Social Security benefits for children

  • How to apply for survivor benefits

  • How long Social Security benefits last

  • Planning ahead with Trustworthy

What Happens to Social Security When Someone Dies?

Although Social Security policies can be complex, the bottom line is that a person’s Social Security benefits end at death. Therefore, it’s important to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible after a parent passes away. Although funeral homes typically notify the SSA about the death, you may need to expedite the process.

You can notify the government by calling Social Security and explaining how your parent has passed away. However, the SSA will likely ask for proof in the form of a death certificate. When someone passes away, you have to refund any Social Security benefits paid after the month of the person’s death.

For example, if somebody dies in June, the SSA would distribute the check for June in July, one month after. However, since the person died in June, the June check needs to be returned. This is because individuals only receive benefits if they are alive the entire month. Check out our guide on how to stop Social Security direct deposit after death to learn more. 

It’s crucial to understand that using someone else’s benefits after they die is a federal crime. Therefore, it’s essential to return unauthorized checks or direct deposits diligently. If the Social Security Administration is suspicious of fraudulent activity, it can warrant a potential criminal investigation. 

Nonetheless, children of the deceased can receive money through Social Security survivor benefits. 

Let’s take a closer look at these benefits.

How Does Social Security Survivor Benefits Work?

Social Security survivor benefits are monthly payments from the government sent to the spouse, former spouse, or children of someone who was eligible for or already receiving Social Security benefits.

These benefits are especially important for young families with children that need urgent financial assistance in difficult situations. 

Who Qualifies for Social Security Survivor Benefits?

It’s crucial to understand that not everybody qualifies to receive Social Security benefits, even if you need help with your financial situation. This is because the Social Security Administration is particular to whom they allocate survivor benefits. 

So, let’s take a closer look at the individuals eligible to receive Social Security survivor benefits:

  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is younger than 18, or up to 19 and 2 months if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school

  • An unmarried child with a disability that began before age 22

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older, or age 50 or older if they have a disability

  • A widow or widower at any age who cares for the deceased individual’s child who is under age 16 or has a disability and receives child’s benefits

  • A surviving divorced spouse, under specific circumstances

Furthermore, the following family members are eligible depending on certain circumstances:

  • Stepchildren, grandchildren, step grandchildren, or adopted children

  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependant on the fallen loved one for at least half of their support 

The best way to determine if you qualify for Social Security survivor benefits is by calling or visiting your local Social Security office. We explain how to apply for survivor benefits further on in this guide.

How Are Social Security Benefits Calculated?

Your Social Security survivor benefits are based on the earnings of your fallen parent. The more money they earned, the more taxes they paid to Social Security. For this reason, you may receive more benefits if your parent was generously compensated during their career. 

Here are some examples of the benefits survivors receive:

  • A child under age 18: 75% of the parent's Social Security benefits

  • Widow or widower (full retirement age or older): 100% of the deceased individual’s benefit amount

  • Widow or widower with a disability (age 50 to 59): 72.5%

  • Widow or widower of any age caring for a child under age 16: 75%

  • Dependent parent(s) of the deceased individual (age 62 or older): 81.5% if there is one surviving parent and 75% for each parent if there are two surviving parents

However, there’s a limit to how much surviving family members can receive each month. Although the maximum family amount varies, it generally falls between 150% and 180% of the basic benefit rate. 

You may also receive a special lump-sum death payment of $255 if you meet certain requirements. However, the lump sum is typically sent to the surviving spouse living in the same household as the fallen individual.

If the surviving spouse lived separately, they could still receive the lump sum if, during the month the parent died, they met one of the following:

  • Was already receiving benefits on the descendant’s record

  • Became eligible for benefits upon the descendant’s death

If there is no eligible surviving spouse, the lump sum is sent to you as the fallen individual’s child if, during the month your parent died, you met one of the following:

  • Was already receiving benefits on the descendant’s record

  • Became eligible for benefits upon the descendant’s death

If you are not already receiving benefits, you must apply for the lump-sum death payment within two years of the date of death. 

What Are Social Security Benefits For Children?

Children who are eligible for Social Security survivor benefits typically receive 75% of their parent’s benefits. According to the SSA, the average monthly Social Security benefits for June 2022 were $1,542.22. Therefore, it’s important to contact the Social Security Administration to see if you are eligible to receive survivor benefits.

In fact, 75% of $1,542.22 is $1,156.67, which can significantly impact your financial situation if you are a child without a parent. 

How to Apply for Survivor Benefits?

To apply for Social Security survivor benefits, you must first notify the SSA about the death. You can accomplish this task by calling a Social Security representative at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Monday through Friday. 

You can also find your local office's phone number and address using the Social Security Office Locator. However, knowing that you can’t report a death or apply for survivor benefits online is important. You must either call the SSA or visit your local office. Although you don’t need to make an appointment, you can call ahead to schedule one.

In any case, you need to explain to the Social Security representative that you want to apply for survivor benefits. 

Then, the SSA may ask you to provide the following documents:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth or adoption

  • Social Security number

  • Proof of your US citizenship or lawful alien status if you weren’t born in the United States 

  • Proof of the deceased’s marriage to your natural or adoptive parent if you are the descendant’s stepchild

  • W-2 form or self-employment tax returns if you earned income last year

  • Disability forms if you are applying for disability benefits

  • Bank account information to arrange direct deposit

However, you shouldn't delay your application even if you don’t have all the documents above. In a lot of cases, your local Social Security office contacts your state Bureau of Vital Statistics to verify your information online for free.

How Long Do Social Security Survivor Benefits Last?

In general, Social Security survivor benefits for surviving children end when you turn 18. However, benefits can continue until the age of 19 and 2 months if you are a full-time student in elementary or secondary education. Furthermore, Social Security survivor benefits last indefinitely if you are disabled before age 22.

Furthermore, your Social Security survivor benefits are also terminated if you get married, even if you still qualify based on age or disability. 

Planning Ahead With Trustworthy

In most cases, we are not prepared for life’s toughest moments. When a parent passes away, there are dozens of post-mortem tasks to sort out as you try to mourn and remember your mom or dad.

However, you can use Trustworthy to prepare when life challenges you the most. Trustworthy is an innovative digital storage and collaboration platform dedicated to families that want to stay interconnected.

You can use Trustworthy to store and organize all of your family’s crucial documents, such as estate plans and wills. This way, your family is better prepared to handle Social Security benefits and the various obligations you must take care of after a parent passes away. 

Trustworthy (Click here to try a 2-week free trial) provides the most effective way of keeping your family on the same page during stressful and somber times. 

Our digital storage platform is designed to let you focus on cherishing your fallen loved one instead of frantically gathering different documents and files. Therefore, you can find everything you need since you have already uploaded them onto Trustworthy.