Cremation and Social Security Death Benefits

How Can Social Security Help With Cremation Expenses

Direct cremation is already much less expensive than traditional services like a burial, but Social Security can reduce its cost further. To access Social Security benefits, you must meet eligibility criteria. Also, if you intend on applying for Social Security death benefits, it’s highly recommended that you start the process immediately, especially if you’re applying for survivor benefits. In some cases, benefits are paid out relative to the time of application and not time of death, which can cause delays in payment.

What is the lump-sum death benefit?

Social Security offers a one-time, lump-sum payment of $255 to assist with funeral costs, including cremation costs. Social Security’s death benefit program was established in 1935 and the payment was capped in 1954. For unexplained reasons, this payment cap hasn’t been reviewed by the government since, so it’s been greatly outpaced by the growing cost of funerals.

Still, $255 can make a big difference for many families. And it’s particularly helpful if you’re considering cremation, as the $255 payment can cover about 30 percent of direct cremation services.

Who is eligible for Social Security death benefits?

Like with most government benefit programs, there are eligibility requirements tied to Social Security death benefits. First, you must be:

  • The surviving spouse of the deceased, OR
  • A qualifying child of the deceased

In some cases, the surviving spouse does not need to be a part of the deceased’s household to qualify for the death benefit. However, whether the surviving spouse was living with the deceased or not at time of the death, one of the following must be true to receive the lump-sum:

  • The surviving spouse or child was receiving Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record, OR
  • The surviving spouse or child became eligible for Social Security benefits upon the decedent’s death

The payment does come with a time limit attached. You must apply for the benefit within two years of the decedent’s death to qualify.

How to get the Social Security death payment

Death benefits are not automatically paid out through Social Security. They must be requested and applied for separately, and it’s best to do so as soon as possible. Any delay in application may delay the payment itself. Further, if you aren’t currently receiving Social Security benefits, any delay in the application may result in Social Security paying out relative to the date you apply, rather than the date of death.

Here’s how to apply:

If death has occurred, notify Social Security immediately so that they halt benefits.

Depositing Social Security benefits paid out after death can cause major delays in transferring survivor benefits over to the spouse or child(ren).

Contact your local Social Security office or visit in person.

They will provide the necessary forms to fill out. Depositing Social Security benefits paid out after death can cause major delays in transferring survivor benefits over to the spouse or child(ren).

You will need to provide quite a bit of information to confirm the decedent’s identity and date of death.

Specifically, you’ll likely need the decedent’s Social Security number, your Social Security number, a death certificate, your birth certificate, the decedent’s most recent W-2 or self-employed tax return, a marriage certificate or divorce papers (to apply as a widow) and any dependent child’s birth certificate and Social Security number.

It may take a while to gather this information, but we can at least help with the death certificate. During the cremation ordering process, let us know that you require a death certificate for benefits purposes and we will be happy to provide one or more.

What are Social Security survivor benefits?

In addition to the one-time lump-sum payment, Social Security will also pay out survivor benefits to any qualifying spouse, child or parent. The rules regarding survivor benefits are pretty complicated, and exactly how much you receive is also complicated. First, the requirements. To be eligible for survivor benefits, you must be:

  • A surviving spouse who is at least 60 years old. Disabled spouses may receive survivor benefits starting at age 50.
  • A surviving spouse of any age who is caring for dependent children under 16 years old or caring for disabled children.
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is under 18 years old. Older children may also qualify if they suffer from a disability that began before turning 22 years old.
  • In some special circumstances, a grandchild, stepchild, step-grandchild or adopted child may also qualify.
  • Dependent parents who are at least 62 years old and do not receive enough Social Security benefits to make up for the decedent’s benefits.

How does Social Security calculate survivor benefits?

How survivor benefits are calculated is also complicated and done on a case-by-case basis. What’s most important is how much the decedent earned while working and the relationship between the decedent and the person applying for benefits.

To qualify for any benefits, though, the decedent must have earned enough Social Security tax credits while working during their lifetime. In general, one tax credit is earned for every three months of full-time work and 40 credits are needed to qualify under normal circumstances. That means 10 years of full-time work is enough for anyone to qualify.

There are instances, though, where survivor benefits are available even when this credit threshold isn’t reached. One provision, for instance, allows a surviving spouse with dependent children to receive benefits if the decedent earned six credits in the three years prior to their death.

Depending on the age at which you start receiving benefits and your relationship to the decedent, Social Security will provide between 71.5 percent and 100 percent of the decedent’s benefit to the survivor. The specific amount is calculated during application.


Social Security Can Assist With Cremation Costs

Social Security doesn’t pay for funeral or cremation costs in full, but the extra assistance can be a big help for direct cremation. Cremation service providers like Cremation Specialists are able to minimize their costs and the savings are passed on to families. Because of this, even something as modest as $255 can make all the difference but apply as soon as possible to ensure you receive the benefit sooner rather than later.  

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