Social Security Survivors Benefits Page: 5 of 6
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Applying for Survivors Benefits
It is in the interests of family members of an insured worker to apply for survivors
benefits promptly after the worker's death.16 In some cases, benefits are paid from the
time of application, not the time of the worker's death."1 Survivors must apply for the
lump-sum death benefit no later than two years after the death of the insured individual.
First-Time Social Security Beneficiaries. To apply for survivors benefits,
people who do not currently receive Social Security benefits should call SSA to request
an application by mail or to set up an appointment at any SSA field office.18 Applicants
must provide documents to show how they qualify for survivor benefits. These
documents must be originals or copies certified by the agency that issued them.
Applicants for survivors benefits need to provide information about the deceased
worker, including his or her Social Security number and most recent tax return. They
must also show proof of death, either a death certificate or documentation from a funeral
home. Applicants also need to provide information about themselves, including their
Social Security numbers and photo identifications. They must demonstrate their
relationship to the deceased worker using a birth certificate, marriage certificate, divorce
papers, or adoption papers. Applicants should also provide their bank name and bank
account number if they choose to have their benefits direct deposited.
Current Social Security Beneficiaries. Current Social Security beneficiaries
who experience the death of a spouse or other qualifying relative need to report the death
to SSA in order to receive survivors benefits. People whose current Social Security
benefits are based solely on their own earnings can contact SSA to see if their survivors
benefits would be higher than their current benefits. If so, these survivors must complete
an application to receive survivors benefits. People who already receive benefits based
in whole or in part on the deceased worker's earnings are to have their benefits
automatically adjusted by SSA. These beneficiaries need only report the death of the
insured worker. An SSA representative is to contact the beneficiary if further information
is needed to process survivors benefits.
Legislative History of Survivors Benefits
Establishment of Survivors Benefits. The Social Security Act of 1935 did not
include any provisions for monthly survivors benefits but did include a lump-sum
16 Social Security Administration, "Social Security Survivors Benefits," August 2007, at
1" Eligibility for Social Security benefits ends the month before the month of a person's death,
so the last benefit received by the deceased usually must be returned. See CRS Report 93-792,
Social Security Benefits Are Not Paid for the Month of Death: A Fact Sheet, by Dawn Nuschler.
18 SSA can be contacted by phone at 1-800-772-1213 (or 1-800-325-0778 for TTY), 7:00 a.m. to
7:00 p.m on weekdays. Applicants who file for benefits by mail must send their original
supporting documents to SSA. Documents are to be returned to the applicant.
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Social Security Survivors Benefits, report, January 8, 2008; Washington D.C.. (https://digital.library.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metadc812116/m1/5/: accessed March 24, 2019), University of North Texas Libraries, Digital Library, https://digital.library.unt.edu; crediting UNT Libraries Government Documents Department.