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Sunday, September 11, 2016

Social Security After Death

One of the first questions we are asked is “do I have to do anything about Social Security”?  Here are some important things to know if a decedent was receiving SSA benefits at the time of passing:

Reporting

Normally the funeral director will contact Social Security to report a person’s death if you give them the decedent’s social security number, but family members and personal representatives can also report the information directly to the SSA by calling 1-800-772-1213.  The most important thing is to make sure SSA records reflect the correct information.  Check out SSA Death Master File and familysearch.org

FYI - Reporting cannot be done online.

Survivor Benefits

Surviving spouses (and in some cases ex-spouses) and children are entitled to different types of survivor benefits:

1)      If you are already receiving social security benefits on behalf of decedent, you are eligible for:

a)      A one-time survivor benefit of $255 (surviving spouse or children), which can be automatically processed;

b)      Continuation of benefits – Payments should be automatically be changed to survivor benefits;

No new application is required for benefits and you do not need to go to a local Social Security office.

2)      If you are not receiving social security benefits on behalf of decedent AND/OR you are receiving your own benefits, you are eligible for:

a)      A one-time survivor benefit of $255 (surviving spouse or children), which must be applied for within 2 years of death and is NOT retroactive to DOD(*);

b)      New survivor benefits – You need to submit an application to the local SSA office

You will need to go to the local SSA office and take with you a certified copy of the death certificate as well as proof of your relation to the decedent (e.g. your birth certificate, marriage certificate).  You might be able to make the application over the phone but this can be a long, slow process; SSA calls are often answered by volunteers who pass along your contact information to a representative for call back later.  Whether you apply in person or over the phone, be sure to have your banking information available if you want the benefits direct deposited.

See "How to Find Your Local Office" service at www.ssa.gov, or call the SSA, toll-free, at 800-772-1213

FYI – Application for benefits cannot be done online.

IMPORTANT:  Don’t wait to apply for benefits!  With limited exception, the SSA won’t pay you for the period prior to the date you made the application.  i.e. if you waited 6 months after the date of death to apply, you won’t likely be able to recoup the benefits that could have been paid during that 6 month period.

Decedent Benefits and Reclamation

It’s just one week after your mom’s passing - you’re looking at the bank statement for  her checking account and notice that her direct deposit social security payment was   auto-deducted after she died. Now what?

Social Security payments are:

·         Retroactive i.e. a payment made in August represents the benefit due for July

·         Paid on specific days of the month according to a person’s birthdate and/or the types of benefits received.  Click here to see the Schedule for Social Security Benefit payments

·         Not pro-rated. In other words, a person is only entitled the monthly benefit only if she was alive for the full month.

·         Subject to automatic reclaim. Monthly benefits that are direct-deposited to a decedent’s bank account will be automatically reclaimed if the Treasury Department determines the decedent was ineligible for the benefit. (Direct deposit is required for all SSA applicants after March 1, 2013, and for anyone receiving benefits as of that date. Direct Express card is another payment option)

Example #1: 

Mom died July 15, 2016.  Social security payment was deposited August 2, 2016.  Mom did not live for the full month of July, so the payment will be auto-reclaimed.  (If by chance you’ve acted quickly enough to close the account and withdraw the funds prior to the Treasury reclaiming the benefit, you cannot keep the money; Mom was not entitled to the benefit and the government will absolutely want it back. You will need to reimburse the government via check sent to your local Social Security office. ) 

Example #2:

Mom died August 10, 2016.  Social security payment was deposited August 2, 2016. Mom lived for the full month of July so payment can be kept.  If a deposit is made in September (representing the August benefit), the September payment will be reclaimed because Mom did not live for the full month of August.

Example #3:

Same scenario as Example #2, Mom died August 10, 2016 and Social security payment was deposited August 2, 2016. However, even though your mom was eligible for the benefit, it is later auto-deducted on August 15, 2016 which you believe to be in error.   A family member or personal representative of Mom’s estate can apply for payment using Form SSA-1724

Example #4:

Mom died August 10, 2016 and her checking account was closed on August 20, 2016.  Mom lived for the full month of July and is entitled to the July benefit, but the Social security payment which should have been deposited Wednesday, August 23, 2016 (DOB April 27) was not received.  A family member or personal representative of Mom’s estate can apply for payment using Form SSA-1724.   

Example #5:

Mom died July 15, 2016, a deposit was made August 10, 2016 and it is now December and no reclamation has occurred. 


120-day Rule: It’s possible that the bank itself properly contested the reclaim.  SSA has 120 days to submit a request for reclaim from the date it receives notification of date of death and sends a “death notification entry”.  While this is the rule, it’s best to double-check with the bank directly to confirm that is the case – it could be that the bank simply hasn’t responded to the request and is sitting on money that should be returned.

Written by Elizabeth C. Ketterson, Esq.  Elizabeth is a Senior Associate at the Law Office of Kevin A. Pollock LLC and helps to run the Estate and Probate Administration Department at the firm.

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