Social Security Death Benefits: Here’s What to Expect

Updated February 27, 2022
woman researching social security death benefits

There are two types of Social Security death benefits: (1) lump sum and (2) survivors benefits. Certain family members of deceased individuals who paid into the Social Security system may be eligible to receive one or both of these benefits after their death. Learn key facts about Social Security death benefits, including who may qualify and how to apply.

Applying for Social Security Death Benefits

In order to receive either kind of death benefit, the person who passed away must have earned enough Social Security credits while they were working to qualify for benefits. This generally happens once someone has worked and paid Social Security taxes for ten years, though the credit requirements are different for people who die very young. Applying is the only way to know for sure if you qualify, though it's helpful to review general eligibility guidelines.

You don't have to make an appointment in advance to go to a local office, but chances are that the visit will take much less time if you do.

Social Security Lump-Sum Death Benefit

The U.S. federal government funds a $255 Lump-Sum Death Benefit (LSDB) that is paid to a deceased individual's surviving spouse. If the individual does not have a surviving spouse, it can be paid to the deceased individual's child or children.

  • If the surviving and deceased spouses were living in the same house at the individual's time of death, the spouse is eligible to receive the LSDB.
  • If the spouses were not living in the same home at the time one passes away, the surviving spouse will qualify for the LSDB if one of the following is true during the month of the person's death:
    • Received benefits based on the individual's Social Security record
    • Became eligible to receive benefits based on the individual's Social Security record upon their death
  • Children are eligible only if there is no eligible surviving spouse. Children do not have to be minors or dependents to qualify to receive the LSDB.

Use the eligibility checker at benefits.gov to get a good idea of whether you qualify. Note: Only one LSDB is paid per deceased individual. If the individual has multiple children, that does not result in multiple payments.

Social Security Survivors Benefits

woman on phone researching social security death benefits

In certain circumstances, a deceased individual's spouse, dependent children, or parents may be eligible to receive Social Security Survivors Benefits. The amount an eligible person may receive can vary significantly based on the work and earnings history of the person who died, and the number of family members who qualify for benefits. Applying is the only way to find out (or even estimate) an amount. There are clear rules as to who can and cannot receive Survivors Benefits. Major criteria include:

Survivors Benefits for Spouses

A deceased individual's current or former spouse is eligible to receive Survivors Benefits in any of the following situations.

  • Surviving spouse 60+
  • Disabled surviving spouse 50+
  • Surviving spouse or-ex spouse of any age responsible for the care of the deceased individual's biological or legally adopted child under 16
  • Surviving spouse or-ex spouse of any age responsible for the care of the deceased individual's disabled biological or legally adopted child of any age
  • Surviving ex-spouse 60+ who was married to the individual at least 10 years and did not remarry before turning 60
  • Disabled surviving ex-spouse 50+ who was married to the individual at least 10 years and did not remarry before turning 50

Survivors Benefits for Children

Each of a deceased individual's dependent children qualifies to receive death benefits. Benefits are available to minor children, adult teenagers who are in high school, and dependent children of any age. These types of benefits apply to biological and adopted children as well as dependent stepchildren. In situations where a deceased grandparent has been acting as a child's parent because the parent is deceased or disabled, grandchildren may qualify for this type of financial support. Find out more key facts about Social Security death benefits for children.

Benefits for Parents

In some cases, a deceased individual's parents may qualify for Social Security Survivors Benefits. For this to be the case, the parents must be at least 62 years old and have been financially dependent on their child who died. In order to be dependent, the parents must have relied on their child who died for at least half of their financial support. Other criteria apply, such as how much Social Security the parent is otherwise entitled to and whether they get married after the child's death. Natural, biological, and stepparents who qualify may be eligible for this benefit.

Social Security Death Benefits: What to Expect

This is just a general overview of what to expect in relation to Social Security death benefits. The rules are complex to navigate, apply, and understand. That's why it's so important to be proactive in applying for benefits if you believe that you may qualify. Be prepared to provide documentation of your identity and citizenship or authorized alien status along with a death certificate for the deceased individual and proof of how you are related to that person.

Was this page useful?
Related & Popular
Social Security Death Benefits: Here’s What to Expect