In a literal sense, one’s Social Security checks stop after death. In general, a funeral home sends the Social Security Administration and the IRS a form reporting a person’s death, and the executor or administrator of the deceased person’s estate also has an obligation to inform the Social Security Administration and the IRS, in case they owe any taxes. Bureaucratic delays can lead to Social Security checks being sent out after the intended recipient’s death, but any Social Security checks cashed in the month of the person’s death or later are expected to be repaid. Crucially, this includes the month of the death—meaning that if the check is received and cashed at the beginning of the month, and the death occurs at the end of the month, the check needs to be returned.
However, this does not mean that Social Security payments will always entirely stop following their death. Other factors, including income and dependents, can determine whether a deceased person’s Social Security payments can continue to another person, even after the original recipient has passed away.
This is because a portion of Social Security taxes are set aside for “survivors’ benefits,” intended for spouses or children of a deceased relative—with the rationale that a household with only one working parent would need a source of income, however small, after that person’s death. For instance, if a woman on Social Security dies, and her benefits are higher than her husband’s, the husband will usually be entitled to survivors’ benefits equal to her check if he is also on Social Security.
Crucially, to receive the full benefit, a person must already be receiving their Social Security benefits in full. Those who are not receiving full benefits, such as seniors who opted to receive their benefits before their “full retirement age” (FRA), will only receive partial benefits. The Social Security Administration maintains a complete list of eligibility requirements on its website.
As a general rule of thumb, benefits begin to kick in earlier in the case of disabled people. For instance, while non-disabled Americans generally must be sixty in order to receive survivors’ benefits, individuals with disabilities can claim theirs at age fifty or higher.
On the other hand, if an unmarried person with no children dies, chances are that the benefits will simply end there, and no survivors’ benefits will be paid out.
Trevor Filseth is a current and foreign affairs writer for the National Interest.