Q: My dad died this month at age 89 and is survived by his wife, my stepmother. She is in her 80’s and her Social Security amount is less than his. What does she need to do to get his Social Security benefits?
A: Before getting to this question, two points must be emphasized.
First, always contact Social Security when there is a death in the family. Call the national SSA toll-free number at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or your local office. If additional benefits are payable, action can begin to start them and, if not, other information can be given.
Second, when eligible for SSA benefits on two records, such as your own retirement and as a widow or widower, you receive the higher benefit amount and not all of one plus all the other.
Since her Social Security amount is less than his, it is probable that her amount will increase to about what his had been.
If she now receives Social Security benefits as a spouse on her husband’s record, changing to a widow’s benefit will take place automatically once his death is reported to Social Security. This is because information about her is already part of his record, including evidence of marriage.
If not yet receiving benefits as a spouse, and therefore not yet connected to his record, she will need to complete an application for survivors benefits as his widow. This is easy to do and can be completed during a telephone or personal interview however she prefers. Evidence of their marriage and his death will be requested. All documents are returned to her.
In addition to increased ongoing benefits, she will probably be eligible for a one-time Social Security benefit of $255 to help towards funeral costs. This is arranged with the monthly survivors benefits.
Your dad would not be eligible to Social Security for the month of his death. Benefits for a month are paid in the following month. If received, these are usually returned to Treasury by the bank. However, she will be eligible for the widow’s benefit for the month of death.
More about Social Security survivors benefits is at http://www.socialsecurity.gov/survivors/.