What is the Lump-Sum Social Security Death Benefit? How to Apply for LSDP as a Surviving Spouse

by Shay Fleming   ·  1 week ago  
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This week, a reader named Missy asked us how to apply for the one-time, lump-sum Social Security death benefit.

“When my husband passed away, I never received anything,” she recalls. We’ll explain the process below for receiving SS death benefits, including which documents you’ll need to apply.

What is the Social Security Death Benefit?

The lump sum death benefit payment from the Social Security Administration is one of the survivor benefits offered by the government to support the family of a deceased individual. Other survivor benefits include the continuation of payments, but the Social Security lump sum death benefit is a one-time payment of $255, disbursed to the partner and any underaged children of the deceased spouse.

The Origin of the Social Security Lump-Sum Death Benefit

The Lump Sum Death Benefit (LSDB) was included in the original 1935 Social Security benefits legislation, designed to provide support for the families of individuals who died before retirement age (then 65), though it wasn’t yet intended to be a death or burial benefit. However, a provision was added shortly thereafter that awarded LSDB to the survivors of the deceased family member, amounting to 3.5% of the individual’s covered earnings. Social Security survivor benefits have been expanded since then, offering the surviving spouses of deceased individuals more options to support themselves after their partner’s death.

At the time, the maximum covered earnings for Social security benefits was $3,000 per year, meaning the maximum LSDB payment was $315 (though the average was much lower, at $96.93). Later increases to the Lump Sum Death Benefit payments happened in 1939, 1950, 1954, and and 1981. The current law, established in the Omnibus Budget Reconciliation Act of 1981, caps the Lump Sum Death Benefit at $255, with the minimum payment being three times the PIA (Primary Insurance Amount), or the monthly benefit amount the worker would be eligible for at full retirement age.

Who is Entitled to Death Benefits in Social Security?

The SSA has certain rules about which spouses and children qualify for retirement benefits after an insured worker passes away. If any of the following apply to you, then you’re not eligible for the $255 Social Security lump sum death benefit:

  • You married the deceased worker less than nine months ago.
  • You’re divorced and your marriage lasted less than 10 years.
  • You’re younger than 60 and have no children younger than 16 years old living at home.
  • You divorced the deceased worker after 10+ years of marriage, but then remarried.
  • You’re an adult child of the deceased worker who’s at least 19 or not currently enrolled in school.

Widowed spouses aged 50-59 may also qualify if they become disabled within seven years of the worker’s death.

When Should I Apply For Lump-Sum Death Payments?

Whenever someone in your family passes away, it’s important to notify the Social Security Administration as soon as possible. Normally, the funeral director laying your loved one to rest handles this task. But depending on the circumstances, you may need to notify the SSA yourself. Regardless, someone must notify the SSA within two years of the date on your loved one’s death certificate. Once that deadline passes, survivors cannot apply for the lump-sum $255 Social Security death benefit.

Other people who may be eligible to apply for the SS death benefit include:

  • The deceased worker’s unmarried child(ren) younger than 19 years old.
  • Divorced spouses, in certain cases.

No matter who applies, the SSA usually pays the death benefit in a single lump-sum payment. That means the first eligible applicant will receive that $255 payment. If several eligible children apply at the same time, the SSA divides that one-time $255 payment evenly among them.

Documents You Need to Claim Benefits For the Surviving Spouse

The surviving spouse must show the SSA they’re eligible to apply for the lump-sum Social Security death benefit. In order to do so, make sure you have original versions of most documents listed below:

  1. Your birth certificate or similar proof of your age and identity. Not everyone has an original birth certificate just lying around the house, and the SSA won’t accept photocopies. But don’t worry — if you don’t have this document, the agency may also help you get one. Other proof the SSA usually accepts for this:
    • Your (current, unexpired) passport, which also fulfills requirement #3 below.
    • School records from before your 5th birthday.
    • A signed statement from the doctor or midwife present at your birth.
    • Census records.
    • Your child’s birth certificate.
    • Insurance policy documents (i.e., life, long-term care/disability, etc.).
    • Your marriage record/certificate.
    • Original family bible or record filled out at the time of your birth.
  2. Your deceased spouse’s death certificate.
  3. Proof of citizenship or lawful alien status. This applies to people born outside the U.S. or Green Card holders.
  4. Did you serve in the U.S. military before 1968? If yes, the SSA needs your discharge papers. (If you don’t have these, then the SSA can get them from the VA.)
  5. Photocopies of last year’s tax returns (i.e., w-2s, 1099s or self-employed tax documents you filed with the IRS).

How to Apply for Your $255 Lump-Sum Death Benefit

You cannot apply for this one-time payment online. Follow these steps to either apply by phone or in person at your local Social Security office:

  1. To apply by phone, call 1-800-772-1213 Monday through Friday, 7am-7pm EST. TTY number: 1-800-325-0778.
  2. Make an appointment at your local Social Security office if you wish to apply in person. These offices are often very busy and sometimes closed to walk-in traffic. So, it’s best to call ahead and make an appointment if you can. To find yours, type your ZIP code into the local office locator on the SSA’s website.
  3. Do you have a printer at home? If , download and complete Form SSA-8 to take with you when applying in person. Otherwise, keep this form handy when you apply by phone so you can quickly and accurately answer the SSA’s questions.
  4. Decide how you want to receive your Social Security death benefit. The fastest, easiest option is direct-deposit. You can sign up for that by calling 1-800-333-1795. You can also do this in person at your bank, credit union or while on the phone with the SSA. Provide your bank’s routing info when you call or bring your checkbook to your in-person appointment. Don’t have a bank account? The SSA can load your $255 Social Security death benefit onto a debit card and mail it to you.

Eligible spouses and children may also qualify for monthly survivor’s benefits. Need help getting benefits after the SSA turned you down or want to apply for disability? Sign up for a free phone call from a local advocate within one business day.

Social Security Lump Sum Death Benefit FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions

How much is the Social Security death benefit?

The Social Security death payment is typically a one-time payment of $255 offered to the surviving spouse or children of the deceased individual..

What is the Social Security death benefit?

The Social Security death benefit is a lump-sum payment made to eligible surviving spouses or children of a deceased individual who had worked and paid into Social Security.

Who qualifies for the $255 social security death benefit?

Typically, the surviving spouse living in the same household as the deceased individual at the time of death qualifies for the $255 lump-sum death benefit.

Does everyone get the $255 death benefit from Social Security?

Not everyone is eligible for the $255 death benefit; typically, only surviving spouses or children who meet certain criteria qualify for this benefit.

Does Social Security pay a death benefit?

Yes, Social Security pays a death benefit, which is designed to provide financial assistance to the surviving spouse or children of a deceased individual who was eligible for Social Security benefits. The surviving spouse of deceased individuals are eligible for a Lump Sum Death Payment or the continuation of their deceased spouse’s retirement benefit in certain situations.

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Shay Fleming is the SEO Content Manager at LeadingResponse, a prominent legal marketing company. A proud graduate of Texas State University, she has been based in Austin since 2016, where she lives with her dog. Shay has contributed extensively to various domains, writing and publishing articles about real estate, investing, disability, and urban living.