Ask the Advisor: May/June 2018

Ask the Advisor: May/June 2018

Help!  I’ve Been Told I Have To Return My Deceased Husband’s Last Social Security Check.  Is This Really True?

Q:  My husband passed away on March 31st.  I was told that I have to return his entire Social Security payment for the month of March.  Can this be true?  This is an unfair and callous policy.  Bills were incurred during the days that he was alive.  Returning the check creates a financial hardship since every bit of it was spent on his healthcare, not to mention the costs of his funeral!   

A: Yes, unfortunately this is correct. Under current law Social Security benefits are not payable for the month in which a beneficiary dies.  This is so even when the beneficiary, like your husband, passes away on the last day of the month.  However, according to the Social Security Administration the check that an individual receives in a given month is the payment for the preceding month.  That means the check that your husband received during the month of March was his benefit for February, which you would be entitled to keep.  It is the March payment that you would have received in April, and any thereafter that must be returned.

This policy catches the vast majority of the public (who can’t be expected to know the details of Social Security law) unawares.  Understandably most people, like you, react with surprise, disgust, and upset when they learn the final payment must be returned.

TSCL believes this offensive policy is long overdue for a change.  Social Security provides monthly income to retirees and we believe retirees are entitled to every last dime, including benefits for the month in which they die.  Payment for the final month is especially important as you point out because medical and funeral expenses can be significant.

TSCL recently endorsed The BASIC ACT (S.1739) introduced by Senator Christopher Murphy that would pay the deceased beneficiary’s Social Security benefits for each day a recipient lives.  The bill would send the beneficiary’s estate a check for the days lived in the final month.  The legislation would also increase the size of the Social Security death payment from $255 to 50% of the deceased beneficiary’s typical monthly Social Security income with $255 as the minimum payment.  As currently structured, the legislation would cost an estimated $800 million each year.

To contact Social Security, you may call toll free at 1-800-772-1213 or visit the website at