You should notify Social Security as soon as possible when a person receiving benefits dies. Most of the time, the funeral director will report the person’s death to Social Security. However, as the surviving spouse or next of kin, you should still contact Social Security to make sure they are notified in a timely manner.
In general, you must report a death to Social Security within 2 months (60 days) of the death. However, there are some exceptions that allow for reporting a death up to 12 months (1 year) after the death occurred.
When Should You Report A Death to Social Security?
Here are some key guidelines for when to report a death to Social Security:
- Report the death as soon as possible. Don’t delay notifying Social Security. The sooner they know, the sooner they can adjust any pending payments or benefits.
- You have 60 days from the date of death to report it. This 2 month window is the standard timeframe.
- You may have up to 12 months (1 year) to report a death if circumstances prevented timely reporting. For example, if you were not immediately aware of the death.
- The funeral director handling arrangements will usually report the death. But check with Social Security to confirm they were notified.
- Contact Social Security promptly if you need to apply for survivor benefits or any death payments owed.
Bottom line: Report the death to Social Security within 60 days. But you generally have up to 1 year in special circumstances before the window closes for reporting a death.
Why Report a Death to Social Security Promptly?
There are a few key reasons why it is important to report a death to Social Security in a timely manner:
- Stop payments: Reporting a death promptly helps Social Security stop sending out any monthly payments, which prevents needing to pay back incorrect payments.
- Determine survivor benefits: Notifying Social Security allows them to review and determine if any survivors are eligible for benefits.
- Pay death benefits: Reporting a death is needed to trigger any potential death benefits that may be owed.
- Update records: Social Security needs to be aware of a death to update their records and vital statistics data.
- Avoid fraud: Reporting prevents someone else from improperly using the deceased’s Social Security number or benefits.
In short, notifying Social Security quickly can help protect federal funds from improper payments, ensure survivors promptly get the benefits they deserve, and update all records to reflect the death across government systems.
How to Report a Death to Social Security
There are several ways you can report a death to Social Security:
To report a death by phone, call Social Security’s national toll-free service number at 1-800-772-1213. You can call from 7am to 7pm, Monday through Friday.
When you call, let the representative know you need to report a death. They will take basic information about the deceased. This includes full legal name, Social Security number, date of birth, date of death, and the claimant’s relationship to the deceased.
You can also report a death to Social Security by mail. Send a letter with the deceased’s full legal name, Social Security number, birth date, death date, and information about your relationship. Mail this letter to your local Social Security office or to:
Social Security Administration
Office of Earnings Operations
P.O. Box 33021
Baltimore, MD 21290-3021
To notify Social Security of a death in person, visit your local Social Security office. Locations can be found online or by calling 1-800-772-1213. Bring the deceased’s Social Security card and your identification. Let the office know you need to report a death.
Through Funeral Directors
Funeral directors will usually report a death to Social Security as part of their services. However, as a spouse or next of kin, you should still contact Social Security to confirm they were notified and see if any other steps are needed.
Information Needed to Report a Death
When you report a death to Social Security, there is some key information you should have handy to provide:
- The deceased’s full legal name and any aliases used
- Social Security number
- Date of birth
- Date of death
- Place of death
- Cause of death (if available)
- Marital status at time of death
- Citizenship status
- Military service details (if applicable)
- Names and birthdates of surviving spouse and dependents (if applicable)
Your own information will also be needed, including your full name, Social Security number, birth date, and relationship to the deceased. Having these details ready will help Social Security quickly process the death report.
What Happens After Reporting a Death to Social Security
Once you report a death, here is a general timeline of what happens next with Social Security:
- 1 day: Social Security systems will show the person as deceased.
- 2-4 weeks: Processing of any final payment owed to the deceased.
- 6 weeks: Letter sent confirming the death report and any next steps for survivors.
- 6 weeks: Decision made on any new benefits for surviving spouses/dependents.
- 8 weeks: Payment of any lump sum death benefit if eligible.
This timeline can vary depending on individual circumstances. Through the process, be sure to stay in contact with Social Security about any questions or concerns you may have.
Exceptions to Reporting a Death in 60 Days
While you generally have 60 days to report a death to Social Security, there are some exceptions where you can have up to 1 year (12 months). Situations that allow for this extended reporting window include:
- You were not immediately aware of the death.
- You were too grief-stricken or ill to contact Social Security right away.
- Settling the estate took longer than 60 days.
- There was difficulty locating the deceased’s Social Security records.
- You never received the lump-sum death payment that was owed.
If any of these circumstances prevented you from reporting the death within 60 days, you should contact Social Security right away to notify them. Make sure to explain the situation so the late reporting can be accepted.
Penalties for Not Reporting Deaths to Social Security
Failing to report a death to Social Security in a timely manner can lead to some penalties:
- Needing to pay back any incorrect payments sent out after the death.
- Not being able to collect some or all of a lump sum death benefit.
- Delays in survivor benefits for spouses and dependents.
- Fines and legal issues if another person uses the deceased’s Social Security number.
That is why it is critical to notify Social Security as soon as reasonably possible after a death. At the very least, be sure to report it within 12 months to avoid most penalties.
Can Social Security Take Action Without a Reported Death?
Social Security does have some ability to take action even if a death is not reported right away. These include:
- Data matching: Social Security maintains death records based on data matched with other government agencies like the states.
- Failed payments: If multiple payments to the deceased fail, a death can be presumed.
- System alerts: Social Security systems may trigger alerts for potential issues like an unused Social Security number.
- Audits: Program audits could detect discrepancies suggesting an unreported death.
However, Social Security’s ability to detect unreported deaths is still limited. The best way to prevent problems is to report the death as early as possible.
Checking on a Death Report to Social Security
After reporting a death to Social Security, you can check to confirm they have it on record. Ways to check include:
- Call 1-800-772-1213 to ask if the death report has been processed.
- Go online to your Social Security account to see if the record has been updated.
- Check the deceased’s Social Security Statement for an updated status.
- Visit your local Social Security office and ask about the reported death.
Usually within 1-2 days of reporting a death, Social Security’s systems will reflect that status if the report has been received and processed. Follow up with them if you do not see confirmation in a timely manner.
How Social Security Works with Other Government Agencies
Social Security coordinates with other federal and state agencies when processing reported deaths. Here are some details on that interaction:
Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Social Security reports deaths to the IRS to stop any pending tax refunds.
- IRS sends a copy of filed tax returns for the deceased to Social Security for earnings data.
- Both agencies share death reports to update their respective records.
State Vital Records Agencies
- Social Security receives death reports from state vital records offices.
- They provide death data to Social Security for updating federal records.
- Social Security usually learns of deaths within 24-48 hours from state reports.
- Medicare is notified of all deaths reported to Social Security.
- This stops any erroneous Medicare claims for the deceased.
- Social Security systems directly communicate new deaths to Medicare’s records.
Coordinating with other agencies helps Social Security quickly become aware of deaths and take appropriate action across federal benefits programs that the deceased may have been receiving.
Getting Death Certificates for Social Security
In most cases, Social Security does not require a death certificate when someone reports a death. Their systems are designed to take action as soon as a death is reported without waiting for further verification.
However, there are some situations where Social Security may request an original death certificate, such as:
- If there are questions about the reported death information.
- When you apply for survivor benefits and lump sum death payments.
- If the deceased was receiving disability benefits at the time of death.
It is a good idea to order several certified copies of the death certificate from the funeral home or vital records office soon after a death occurs. That way, you will have them handy if Social Security requests a copy.
Survivor’s Guide to Social Security After a Death
When a spouse or family member dies, their survivors may be eligible for certain Social Security benefits. Here is a quick guide:
For Widows and Widowers
- Widows and widowers may qualify for survivor benefits starting at age 60.
- Surviving spouses at full retirement age may have choice to take reduced survivor benefit or their own benefit, whichever is higher.
- Remarriage after age 60 will not affect survivor benefits for widow/widowers.
For Divorced Surviving Spouses
- Former spouses can get survivor benefits if the marriage lasted at least 10 years.
- Same eligibility rules apply at age 60 and full retirement age.
- Benefits paid to ex-spouse do not limit other family members receiving benefits.
- Unmarried children under age 18 can get up to 75% of deceased parent’s benefits.
- This increases to 85% of benefits at age 18 if still enrolled in high school.
- Disabled children can receive survivor benefits at any age if disability began before age 22.
For Dependent Parents
- If deceased child was providing at least half of parent’s support, survivor benefit is available.
- Parent must be at least age 62 and unmarried to qualify.
- Max benefit is 82.5% of what deceased child would receive at full retirement age.
Check with your local Social Security office for details on eligibility for survivor’s benefits and the application process.
Getting Help from Social Security After a Death
Social Security has resources to help people navigate the agency’s process after a death:
- Call 1-800-772-1213 to speak with a representative about reporting a death or applying for benefits.
- Locate your local Social Security office to make an appointment for assistance.
- The publication “What to Do When a Loved One Dies” provides step-by-step guidance.
- Survivor checklists help you know what documents and information will be needed.
- FAQs on Social Security website give answers to common questions.
Social Security aims to make the process as simple as possible for people during a difficult time. Do not hesitate to reach out to them for help responding to a death properly.
Frequently Asked Questions
Do I have to notify Social Security if I’m already getting survivor benefits?
Yes, even if you are already receiving survivor benefits from Social Security, you still need to report the death. This ensures their records are updated and any other benefits or payments can be stopped right away.
What if Social Security sent a payment after the death – do I have to pay it back?
If Social Security sends a payment after the death occurred but before it was reported, you typically will not have to pay it back. The earlier you report the death, the less chance of any erroneous payments being sent.
Can I report a death to Social Security online?
Unfortunately there is currently no option to report a death through Social Security’s online account portal. You will need to call, visit an office, or mail a letter with the information.
What number do I call to report a death to Social Security?
To report a death by phone, you can call Social Security’s national customer service number at 1-800-772-1213. Representatives are available to assist you from 7am to 7pm local time, Monday through Friday.
How does Social Security find out about deaths?
Social Security primarily learns of deaths from reports by family, funeral homes, and state agencies. They also use data matching with other federal and state agencies to update records. In some cases, failed payments can alert them to an unreported death.
Reporting a death to Social Security as soon as possible is important to avoid any improper payments and ensure survivors receive the benefits they deserve. While you have up to 12 months to report in special circumstances, it is best to notify them within 60 days of the death.
Social Security has a process in place to take quick action on death reports. This involves updating records, stopping payments, sending notifications to other agencies, and evaluating any potential survivor benefits. By reporting the death promptly and providing the needed details, you can help Social Security smoothly process the change in status.