Q & A: September 2019

Q & A: September 2019

Who Notifies Social Security When Someone Dies?

Q:  My grandfather passed away two months ago at 89, and my step-grandmother (who is 85) is having problems with dementia.  Her son, (my step-uncle), who has power-of-attorney for his mother told the family that he notified Social Security of my grandfather’s death.  I thought the funeral director normally did this.  Now, I question whether this actually got taken care of.  My grandfather never gave anyone in the family power-of-attorney, and I don’t know if he left a will.  I suspect my step grandmother may be getting two Social Security checks, her own retirement benefits and still receiving my grandfather’s retirement check.  

A:  We are sorry to hear about the loss of your grandfather.  When someone dies, the Social Security Administration (SSA) requires that it be notified as soon as possible.  Usually the funeral director will report the death to the SSA if supplied with the deceased’s Social Security number (SSN).

If your grandfather’s estate is probated, the executor or administrator would make sure the Social Security Administration is notified.  One reason to inform Social Security promptly, though, is to ensure that your step-grandmother is receiving the appropriate benefits.  Your step-grandmother may be eligible for a one-time death benefit of $255 if she was still living with the deceased.  In addition, she would be entitled to a widow’s benefit based on 100% of the amount that your grandfather received, or her own retirement benefit if higher.

Your grandfather and step-grandmother may have shared a bank account to which Social Security benefits were electronically paid.  The SSA requires that such accounts must remain open for at least 45 days following notification to the SSA of the death.  It would not be unusual for your step-grandmother to have two bank accounts for several months.

Social Security also requires that payments for the month during which the person died be returned.  If, for example, your grandfather died on June 24, 2019 then the payment sent in July (which is the benefit for the month of June), must be returned.  If the SSA has not been informed of your grandfather’s passing, all the payments for the month of death and thereafter will need to be repaid.  If received by direct deposit, the bank will be able to return the funds for the month of death and thereafter, assuming the funds are still available to do so.

To protect your family, we encourage you to seek professional legal advice, preferably from an attorney that specializes in estates in the state of your grandfather’s primary residence.