“In the first few weeks after the death,” attorneys Liza Hanks and Carol Elias Zolla warn trustees and executors in the book The Trustee’s Legal Companion, “you should pick up the phone and notify the Social Security Administration of the death by calling 1 800-772-1213.  You are required to return any Social Security payment that’s for the month of death, no matter when the death occurred.”

That can be confusing, the authors admit.  Social Security payments are usually made for the prior month.  If a person died June 30, for example, her check for June would arrive in July, and that check and any other that arrive after it must be returned.

What if Social Security checks are being deposited directly into a bank account?  Notify the bank and request that any funds received for the month of death or later be returned to Social Security as soon as possible.  If you’re mailing a check back, Hanks and Zolla warn, use registered mail so that you can get a receipt.  To find the closest Social Security Administration office, go to www.ssa.gov, they advise.

Since a surviving spouse is entitled to a one-time death benefit of $255 from Social Security and also might qualify for survivors’ benefits, survivors need to call or visit the SSA.

Dealing with Social Security benefits is a very important part of winding up a wage earner’s – or former wage earner’s affairs, because, as Denis Clifford points out in Plan Your Estate, even survivors not entitled to payments based on their own earnings record may be eligible for survivor benefits.

Relatives who might qualify include:

  • Surviving spouse
  • Former spouse (if he/she was married 10 years or more to the deceased)
  • Unmarried minor children
  • Dependent grandchildren and great-grandchildren
  • Dependent parents over 65

Age is a factor in eligibility to collect benefits as a relative of the deceased worker:

  • Widow/widower – full benefits at normal retirement age, reduced benefits beginning at age 60.
  • Disabled widow/widower – benefits may begin as early as age 50

No matter how careful and detailed the estate plan, at Geyer & Associates we remind our clients to contact the Social Security Administration shortly following a loved one’s death.

– by Corinna A Smith of  Rebecca W. Geyer & Assicuates