With funeral expenses in the United States ranging anywhere between $6,600 and $15,000, there is an obvious incentive for people to look for ways to cut down on costs.1 Given that Social Security programs are among the most widely used benefits in the U.S., one might think that they can get some amount of money to cover funeral costs. Yet while there is such a program in place, it is far from enough to fully cover most funeral needs.
Does Social Security Pay For Funeral Expenses?
Yes, but not a lot. In the event of a death, the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a small grant to eligible survivors of some beneficiaries to help with funeral costs. This is referred to as The Lump-Sum Death Benefit. As of March 2021, this amount was set by law at $255 for SSI recipients. The money generally goes to the deceased’s spouse. If the surviving spouse is living with the worker at the time of death, the benefit is paid without issue. If the worker and spouse were living apart, the spouse can still receive the lump-sum death payment if the spouse was already receiving benefits based on the worker’s record or became eligible for survivors’ benefits. If there is no spouse, the benefit is paid to a child (or children) who is receiving or is eligible to receive monthly benefits on the worker’s record.
The Lump-Sum Death Benefit was once an important part of Social Security benefits to survivors, as when it was originally implemented in the late 1930s, it was the only benefit available to survivors of insured
workers who died before they reached 65 years of age. Additionally, prior to 1952, the $255 amount awarded was more than three times the maximum monthly benefits payable under Social Security. However, the amount offered for the lump sum has remained the same over the last eight decades, meaning its value has diminished greatly over time.
Who Is Eligible For Monthly Social Security Benefits?
Only those who receive regular monthly social security benefits are eligible for the Lump-Sum Death Benefit. To receive monthly benefits, the deceased worker must have credit for work covered by Social Security ranging from 1.5 to 10 years depending on his or her age at death. Those eligible for monthly benefits include:
- A widow or widower age 60 or older (50 if disabled) or at any age if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled
- A divorced widow or widower aged 60 or older (50 if disabled) if the marriage lasted 10 years or if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled
- Unmarried children up to 18 (19 if they are attending a primary or secondary school full-time)
- Children who were disabled before reaching 22 as long as they remained disabled
- Dependent parent or parents 62 or older
After their death, the heirs of a beneficiary can receive the Lump-Sum Death Benefit to cover some of their funeral costs.
Applying for Benefits
Obviously, the amount of social security received through the Lump-Sum Death Benefit isn’t going to be enough to cover most funerals or other expenses following the death of a loved one, but it at the very least will cover some basic things such as a casket or urn, hospital-provided cremation services, and a cemetery plot. You will most likely need to look at other benefits if you want to cover the full extent of funeral costs though. Still, even if it won’t cover everything that you need, it is always good to have another asset available. If you aren’t already receiving benefits, you can apply at any Social Security office or, if you wish, you may apply by telephone (with the toll-free number 1-800-772-1213) or online (www.ssa.gov).
1. World Population Review. (n.d.). Average Funeral Cost by State 2021. World Population Review. https://worldpopulationreview.com/state-rankings/average-funeral-cost-by-state