Social Security Lump Sum Death Payment Overview

If you're insured by Social Security and living with a spouse, your spouse is entitled to a lump-sum death payment of $255 when you die. If you don't have a spouse or you're not living with your spouse at the time of your death, the payment can be made to your surviving spouse or child who is receiving or is eligible to receive benefits based on your work. The lump sum death payment can be used to cover expenses associated with a family member's death.

What Is a Lump Sum Death Payment?

The lump-sum death benefit was once linked to burial expenses and is often still referred to as a "funeral benefit." Early in the history of the Social Security system, survivor benefits weren't a part of the program. Instead, a lump-sum benefit would be paid if a worker died. This made it possible for families who otherwise wouldn't have received benefits to receive a limited benefit.

When survivor benefits were added to the program, a lesser version of the lump-sum was paid only in cases when no survivor benefits were paid on the basis of the deceased worker's record. Eligibility was later expanded to include cases where survivor benefits were also paid so that the survivor benefits wouldn't need to be diverted to cover burial expenses.

Today, the lump-sum no longer has any legal connection to burial expenses. Unfortunately for surviving family members, the death payment has been fixed at $255 for several decades and, due to inflation, its value has significantly decreased.

Eligibility for the Payment

The lump-sum death payment is made to your spouse if your surviving spouse is living with you at the time of your death. If you don't have such a spouse, the payment can be made to either your spouse or child who is receiving or is eligible to receive monthly Social Security benefits on your work record at the time of your death. If you don't have any such survivors, no death payment is made.

If you have multiple eligible children, on the other hand, the payment is evenly divided among them. Finally, if your eligible surviving spouse or child isn't currently receiving Social Security benefits, he or she must apply for the lump-sum death payment within two years of your death.

Information Needed To Apply

When applying for a lump sum death payment, the following documents may be required to show eligibility:

  • Birth certificate or other proof of birth
  • Proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status
  • U.S. military discharge papers
  • W-2 forms and/or self-employment tax returns
  • Death certificate for deceased worker

Along with the above documents, the following information may be required:

  • Social Security numbers of the deceased and his or her survivors
  • Whether the deceased worker ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare, or Supplemental Security Income
  • Whether the deceased worker was unable to work because of illness, injuries, or other conditions
  • Whether the deceased worker was ever in active military service
  • Whether the deceased worker worked for railroad industry
  • Whether the deceased worker earned Social Security credits under another country's social security system
  • Names and Social Security numbers of any of the deceased worker's former spouses and dates of marriages
  • Names of any of the deceased worker's unmarried children under 18, 18-19 and in secondary school, or disabled prior to age 22
  • Amount of the deceased worker's earnings in the year of death and preceding year
  • Whether the deceased worker had a parent who was dependent on deceased worker for half of his or her support
  • Whether the deceased worker and surviving spouse were living together at time of death

Help in Applying for Benefits

You can apply for benefits by contacting or visiting a Social Security office. If you'd like additional help in filing a claim for a lump sum death payment or any other Social Security matter, you may want to consult with a Social Security attorney .

Next Steps

Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your social security disability or retirement benefits issue.

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