General, Online Services, Survivors

When Tragedy Occurs, Your Family Can Count on Us

April 11, 2016 • By

Reading Time: 2 Minutes

Last Updated: November 6, 2023

Older woman comforting a young boyTragedy strikes without warning. For families who lose a wage earner, it can have a devastating financial impact in addition to the emotional one.

Acting Commissioner Carolyn Colvin says that Social Security touches the lives of every American, often in times of tragedy and uncertainty. It’s true. Our programs go beyond retirement and disability benefits. Social Security helps care for the surviving families of deceased entitled workers.

If you work, some of the Social Security taxes you pay now go toward survivors benefits for workers and their families. In the event of your death, certain family members — widows, widowers (including your divorced spouse), children and dependent parents — may be eligible for survivors benefits. Social Security’s survivors benefits may be more valuable than your individual life insurance.

The benefit amount your family is eligible for depends on your average lifetime earnings. The more you earned, the more their benefits will be. Check your Social Security Statement to see an estimate of survivors benefits we could pay. You can create a secure my Social Security account to access your Statement anytime and see an estimate of these benefits. With a my Social Security account, you can also see an estimate of your retirement and disability benefits, and ot her important information. You can also visit our Benefits Planner to help you better understand your and your family’s, Social Security protection as you plan for your financial future.

In certain circumstances, we also make a one-time payment of $255 to your spouse or child if you’ve worked long enough. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death.

For more information about how Social Security’s survivors benefits can help your surviving dependents, please read Survivors Benefits or visit our website. No one likes to think about death, but, unfortunately, it’s inevitable. When it happens, know that you can count on Social Security to be there for your loved ones.

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About the Author

Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Communications

Jim Borland, Assistant Deputy Commissioner, Communications


  1. P

    What’s 250 when it costs 10000 to bury someone is this joke?
    Maybe don’t bail out the banks in 2008 and every one could get a free burial, mr Obama!

  2. Jim R.

    All the RED tape, what needs to be done is the SS dept should alert everyone about the Death Benefits and not just tell everyone about the $255 bucks, but to place the rules upfront so that people can calculate what will happen if the day comes. So this way people can start planning and know what SS dept can do or not do for them if the love one is called to the bye n bye….. SS Dept why don’t you just let us know the rules your workers look at now !!! This way we know what we can or can not ask…..

    • Marc

      Um, they DO tell you, everything you could ever need to know and more – it’s all right here on this website, to make it convenient for you 24/7. What more do you think they should/can do??? How tough is that – after all, you’re here now. Take a little responsibility for yourself. Why does everyone seem to expect someone else to wipe their noses for them? What a spoiled, selfish society we’ve become. It boggles the mind.

      • Lisa

        Hey, Marc, how are you? This is just my observation, some people may not have the same grasp on the terminology as others, or perhaps there is a language barrier that prevents them from fully understanding their benefits. Whatever the case may be, we are talking about people who have suffered a loss, (hence the title “When Tragedy Occurs…”). Do you think you could replace the sarcasm with a little compassion? I don’t think you would speak to these people the same way if they were standing in front of you.
        I’m not sure why you’re so angry but I’m pretty sure it isn’t the fault of anyone on this site. I will include you in my prayers in the hope that you find some peace.

        • sandra d.

          Lisa, what an awesome reply to Marc. You must be a very special person to have the compassion and insight, and grace, that you just exhibited with your comment. God bless you and yours.

          • Marcie

            Yes, Lisa, thank you. Many folks come to this site for answers. As most of us do not deal with Social Security on a daily basis and the jargon used sometimes doesn’t make sense. Sadly, those in the SS offices often use the same attitude as Marc, frustrating us lay-people even more. Hopefully, someone with insite such as your self will read these comments and speak with the employees at the SS offices. Thanks again.

          • Marcie

            Yes, Lisa, thank you. Many folks come to this site for answers. As most of us do not deal with Social Security on a daily basis, the jargon used sometimes doesn’t make sense. Sadly, those in the SS offices often use the same attitude as Marc, frustrating us lay-people even more. Hopefully, someone with insite such as your self will read these comments and speak with the employees at the SS offices. Thanks again.

    • John O.

      You want spoon fed? You can get pamphlets for free on any of the benefits, just ask for them.

    • Susan

      Get Laurence J Kotlikoff ‘s book “Get What’s Yours” Social Security The secrets of Maxing out your Social Security. Last printed in 2015. That was before the new rules to cut some of the benefits that will end on April 30, 2016. co-authors Philip Moeller, and Paul Solman. Its a Green book hard copy. I don’t know if the library has it. It got it from an investment company.

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your suggestion Jim. Information on the Lump Sum Death Payment and Survivors Benefits can be located on our website at: You may also read our publication: “How Social Security Can Help You When A Family Member Dies”.

    • Me

      You an heartless person don’t talk to people like thst you an stupidthey do post it in there office pay attention it’s not there problem your dealing with the government

  3. Peggy

    The $255.00 death benefit amount has been the same for decades. Are there any plans to update this benefit amount to reflect a COLA for the time that has passed?

    • John O.


      • Susan

        Many of the SS rules have been the same since the inception of SS when the life expectancy was only 70 at most. The things that have changed have taken benefits away.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Peggy, there are no immediate plans to change or modify the Lump Sum Death Payment. Thank you for your question.

  4. Andy H.

    When I was a young person I walked into the SS office for my first sSocial Security card thinking I would not be back for another 40 years or more. A short time later my dad was diagnosed with lung cancer and passed away. I learned quickly the value of Social Security survivor benefits. It helped my family keep its head above water.

  5. Gwen

    When my husband died last year, I was told that I did not qualify for survivor benefits because I earned too much money. I don’t have any children at home and I still have a few years before I retire. So I guess all those years he paid in doesn’t help me at all.

    • CPoulin

      It will help when you reach retirement age if his SS is greater than yours will be.

    • Ray F.

      Hi Gwen, we are sorry for the loss of your husband. You may be eligible for widow’s benefits under your husband’s record as early as age 60 (age 50 if you are disabled). Some people can get Social Security retirement benefits and work at the same time. However, if you are younger than full retirement age, and make more than the yearly earnings limit, your earnings may reduce or totally suspend your Social Security benefits. Please visit our Retirement Planner: Getting Benefits While Working and read our publication How Works Affect Your Benefits for more information.

  6. Lance

    I was wondering what is the most important thing to do to keep our SS Dept strong and stable as I am a disability recipient. And would like to try to help in any way possible to keep sococial security strong for a long time to come

    • Arthur

      You have a big battle like us in front of you as NO WAY OF STOPPING our Politicians of dropping I.O.U’s in the account for there special projects we will never collect on. And when will Bill Clinton put back $2.5 Trillion he used to pay the Federal debt to balance his budget as President. GET A LOCK ON THE ACCOUNT it wont happen. Try asking AARP with 38 Million members

      • John O.

        The AARP is a joke. They get rich selling supplemental medical policies.

    • Susan

      Vote, vote, vote for new people who actually care about what happens to those of us who need help. Those who want to cut the various programs the government offers will cut SS!. The gov has already borrowed from the SS program to pay for other things. I could go off on a tangent to let you know that the gov is printing money out of thin air every day. but that is a topic for another day. But vote especially locally and state.

  7. julie


  8. Michelle D.

    I am currently awaiting a third decision what causes this to happen.

  9. Stephan A.

    Does my wife apply for my monthly payments if i die. And also apply for hers. She is 62
    I am retired and receiving SS monthly payments. I am 65 this year.

    • dan

      Go to the Social Security office very soon. Government is changing/or has changed this benefit. She can draw on your SS, then at 70 switch over to hers, if it pays more. She can only take one yours or hers. I’m not a lawyer but have read about this in several sources. Don’t wait, when the law goes into effect, you lose.

      • dan

        Forgot to include that she draws on yours while you are alive. You don’t have to be dead!!!

        • bobbie h.

          How can my wife draw on my SS while I*m still alive if I am drawing it?

          • John O.

            If she is old enough she can receive a spousal benefit which does not effect what you receive. It could be offset if she already draws on her own account. Check with SS.

          • Ray F.

            Hi Bobbie, your wife may be able to get benefits on your record, if she is at least 62 years of age and you are receiving retirement or disability benefits. She can also qualify for Medicare at age 65. Benefits paid to your spouse will not decrease your retirement benefit. Please visit our “Retirement Planner: Benefits For Your Spouse” for more information.

          • Retired


        • Kory

          How could any of this be better stated? It co’ntlud.

          • Katy

            I am glad that someone sees this needed to be changed. Also it is wrong to not have a reduction to the income the retiree gets. I retired from gov’t and in order to leave a benefit at death I have to pay for it and receive a reduction in my monthly payment. Also worked under SS and work now but my SS payments are reduced drastically because I worked for hovernment. Talk about a ripoff. This is of mass proportion. And definitely discriminatory at its core. And people wonder why this is on brink of bankruptcy.

      • Susan

        Go before the end of April 2016 because those benefits end May 1, 2016.

      • DIANE A.

        If I am already collecting on my account can I suspend mine and collect on my husband’s account?

    • Ray F.

      Thank you for your question Mr. Ambrose. If your wife already receives benefits as a spouse, under your record, her benefit will automatically convert to survivors benefits after we receive the report of death. If a person already receives retirement benefits on his or her own record, they can only apply for benefits as a widow or widower if the retirement benefit they receive is less than the benefits they would receive as a survivor.

  10. Thomas H.

    In certain circumstances, we also make a one-time payment of $255 to your spouse or child if you’ve worked long enough. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death.

    I have no spouse and my children are grown. Can the $255 be used for my funeral expenses?

    • Kathy

      I seem to remember when my mother passed away back on 1983, I was unable to receive the survivor benefit because I was 29 years old. I think the child has to be a minor in order to receive that benefit. And no, I was not able to use the survivor benefit towards funeral expenses.

      • Jan

        The $255 is usally applied for and received by the funeral home or crematorium. Frequently, family members do not realize that this transaction took place.

        • Tom

          That comment is without factual basis. In the early 1980’s Reagan and O’Neill trimmed many entitlements. The lump sum payment was no longer payable to the funeral home directly nor to the person paying for the funeral. Only an entitled widow(er) or child(ren) are eligible. Misinformation only serves to add to the time SSA needs to properly serve the public, which takes away time from others. Factual information is available from the agency instead.

          • Colleen H.

            Thank you for clearing that up!

        • Ray F.

          To clarify. The Lump Sum Death Payment is only payable to eligible family members. Generally, the widow and minor children of the deceased.

          • ralph f.

            outstanding mr ray Fernandez. I kew about tht when my moms past away a year and half ago. I like the way you help people on the web site, keep up the good work. ret.usmc/army ralph fernandez

    • how?

      What is that going to do???

      • China

        I have been so beedeiwrld in the past but now it all makes sense!

    • Retired

      $255 is an insult to anyone that has lost a love one. What can you do with that small amount of money? Absolutely nothing.

      • Marc

        They don’t owe you anything. What cheek you have to criticize because you think the government handing over a check for $225 “isn’t enough???” The only “insult” here is that I’ll bet you’re one of those people who complain about “welfare cheats” and disabled people whom you think are “faking” because they’re “too lazy to work” taking “your tax dollars.” Your comment is disgusting.

        • Mary

          My husband recently died and his cremation was over 5,000 dollars. I do have to agree that 255 dollars doesn’t go far. If a burial, casket etc is added it would be well over 7 or 8 thousand.

        • jcd

          I have paid into SS all my life and I will not get it all back. SS should cut a check when that person retires for what they have paid in. Instead they give your money to other people. Does not make sense. So SS owes everyone a lot. Also people have a right to complain about that little check that they receive every month. Should be a lot more.

        • Retired

          Ask me, if I care what you think.

        • Me

          Lay off get a live font u have anything better to do

        • Ishmael S.

          A person can pay into SS for 40 years or more and gets absolutely nothing for it if he never married or had any children. He’s not even entitled to the measly $225.00 to help with burial expenses. Where’s the justice in that?

        • Steve

          Marc, what is the matter with you? Retired’s post is correct. $255 buys NOTHING. My brother died at 55, his funeral cost us $12,000. Guess what? We did not even get $255 from SSA. He got nothing. He paid in his whole working life and got nothing for it.

          • Sylvia

            Yes you are right. My Nephew died on oct 1. Now they say his check for sept which went in today has to sent back WRONG. He was alive in Sept

      • Jack

        I agree with you, $255.00 is a slap in the face. For all of the social security taxes a person pays year in and year out this is the answer? Let’s face it, with the elected officials running this country now we are being laughed at.

        • Marc

          Social Security is NOT a burial benefit, that is NOT what it is meant for. It’s a RETIREMENT and DISABILITY benefit. You are all complaining about them for something that they are not responsible for. If you want someone to pay you a benefit to cover burial expenses there are things called INSURANCE POLICIES meant specifically for that.

          • Me

            You an heartless person don’t talk to people like thst you an stupid

          • Robin N.

            when your spouse dies…and there is no where for his benifits to go ..but sit and make money….I hve nothing including the fact my love of 21 years is gone..survivors benifits should not have an age limit..I am 54 my husband was 48 when he passed..and I have to wait for the age of 60 to get survivors benifits..this just doesnt make since..why that money just husband is gone he wouldnt want me to be in this position..I need help now…who nows what 6 years of waiting will bring..not right!

          • Gina

            Marc your missing the point. I work i pay ss. Im not asking for a hand out it should benefit the person for whatever it maybe. I busted my ass for it. My Mom worked up until the last 2 wks of her life never saw a penny of ss. she startingworking at 17 until she died at 61. My father worked his whole life. He found out he was terminal stage five prostatecancer 56 yrs old. Doctors told him he had a yr and a half 1/2. He received ssi within a month. He was told he had to be on ssi 2yrs before he could get medicare. Go apply for medicaid. Lupron shots 1200 dollars a pop out of pocket once a month. Barely received 1100 hundred a month. These benefits are a joke. By the time I retire there isn’t a check for me. Social security office benefits not me. Thiefs if you ask me. Dog and pony act . Jump thru here, sit there, go to window 5. Your right life insurance is way better to invest in. oh wait i dont have a choice i have to pay ss.

          • Ishmael S.

            There are many policies that for retirement but they can also be cashed out. A life time of payments but no retirement or survivor benefits should at least entitle you assistance with to burial cost

      • Susan

        YOu expect taxpayers to pay for your funeral at $7000 to start? My would that take off from those who receive living benefits!

        • Ishmael S.

          First a burial is not a funeral. You can have a million dollar funeral and a $1,500 burial!
          Imagine if it was mandatory that you paid into your employees retirement fund and you worked there for 40 years and died before retiring. Would you think it was okay if the fund kept all of your money because your children were grown and you wife had preceded you in death?

          • Joe P.

            My mother died in car wreck 12/25/1995 ,father died 12/15/2015. He paid social security for 48 years recieved his check two years and paid taxes on it. Where does the money if he had lived ten more years go? Answere that

      • Nelson

        Buy son flowers. This people don’t fill shame to public this ?. In 1992 they paid $150 and to day, after 24 years the only raise $100. and the top of that, they said “We protect your family”. BigGGG protectioon!.

        • O. M.

          You are giving out misinformation. The lump sum has been $255 since it began. I worked for SSA from 1976 to 1986 and it’s always been $255.

    • Patricia C.

      I lost my father January 14, 2014, and when I went to see if I could collect the $255, I was told since I’m not a dependent child I will receive nothing. It says, spouse or child, not a dependent child. This is the biggest rip off I have ever seen. Even if I can’t get it then send it to finish paying off his funeral bill that I owe 176.00 for the past 2 years. I barely make enough to pay what bills I have now.

      • Katy

        To me each person working pays the same amount bas=d on income. It is inherently wrong and in a way theft for the government to force payments from workers then only give benefits to spouses and their children including former spouses. My sibling worked and paid over $100k into SS. My mother could use that money but my sis never married and left no dependent children.

        We say all are equal in this country. No discrimination based on orientation gender marital status etc yet our income tax laws favor discrimination against unmarried individuals known as single filers. We need to have those who benefit from survivors benefits pay extra for their survivors to get those benefits or refund the portion of SS payments to the family or the beneficiaries of the single persons choosing. This only right.

    • John O.


    • Ray F.

      Hi Thomas. Unfortunately, the Lump Sum Death Payment is only payable to eligible family members. Generally, the widow and minor children of the deceased. For more information on this, please read How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies.

      • Katie

        My as I an as I an widows 41k benefits stolen from Katie schultz Kathleen since kid wrong payers not spending a dime on me my parents an ex boyfriend committed fraud illegal guaduain ship custody on me illegal I can be my own payee need help 2198013134

    • Bonnie

      I lost both my husband and adult daughter a few months ago. I am disabled on receiving SSDI. My husband was retired and his retirement benefit was less than what I receive from SSDI. SS paid the $255.00 after he passed, but ended up taking away his SS benefits. This dropped my income to the point I am about to lose my house, cannot pay property taxes or bills. I am completely lost. I applied for county assistance and make too much with my $1084.00 a month SSDI payment. I could have had they counted the amount I received after the Medicare deduction . That put me just over the limit. I don’t know how they can say they are there for you after someone dies because they have left me, and many others I know, destitute. I have two funerals to pay for (over $20,000.00) and no income or savings. Every penny we had prior to my husbands passing went to pay for medical expenses in an attempt to save our daughters life. She passed the day of my husbands funeral.
      Both my husband and I worked hard for many years and never asked for help. When I became sick, I was devastated at no longer being able to work as I’ve worked from the time I was 14 years of age until now…age 60. There are no other benefits available from what I’ve been told. I wonder how many of our government politicians and workers have to live on social security alone had they been in a similar situation?
      I applied and received the $255.00 myself. The funeral home did not apply, nor did they offer. I was able to use the $255.00 to keep my electricity and heat going for another month.

    • Richard C.

      A whopping 255.00 with over 100,000.00 paid in!

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