Q: My father recently passed away. When I notified the bank as his legal power-of-attorney I was told that his Social Security check for the month in which he died, and any others received thereafter, must be returned. Is this correct and what justification is there for this rule? He died on the next to the last day of the month and his only income was Social Security.
A: Yes that is correct. Even though you were legally authorized by your father to deposit Social Security checks in his name and to write checks from the bank account to pay bills and provide for his care, do not cash any check you may receive after his death. If you do, you may potentially be subject to criminal charges. Social Security benefits are not pro-rated. To be entitled to a Social Security benefit check for a given month, the individual must be alive the entire month. For example, if your father died at the end of April, then the check received in May, which is for April benefits, would have to be returned to Social Security as well as any subsequent checks received thereafter. The provision has been in the law since 1939 and can only be changed by legislation. According to the Social Security Administration, legislative history of this provision does not show why benefits are not payable for the month of death.
On the other hand, another provision of law allows eligible survivors, like your mother if she is still living, to receive survivors benefits for the entire month of death. Social Security should be notified as soon as possible. In most cases, the funeral director will report the individual’s death to Social Security. You may have already furnished the funeral director with your father’s Social Security number and birth certificate.
To report a death you should do the following:
• Notify Social Security of the beneficiary’s death by calling SSA toll-free at 1-800-772-1213.
• If benefits were being paid by check, DO NOT CASH any checks received for the month in which the beneficiary died or thereafter. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible. You can return the check to your local Social Security office.
• If benefits were paid by direct deposit, contact the bank and request that any funds received for the month of death or later be returned to Social Security.
For more information, visit the Social Security website at www.socialsecurity.gov or call toll-free, 1-800-722-1213. Ask for Social Security Publication No. 05-10008, “How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies.”