By RUSSELL GLOOR
Certified Social Security Advisor
Dear Rusty: A couple I am friends with has lived together for over 45 years. Unfortunately, he died last week and she is unsure about what happens to his Social Security benefits now that he has passed away. She’s also not sure about her own status since they were never legally married. This woman is understandably distraught and I’m trying to help her get through this difficult time. Can you help? Signed: A friend helping a friend
Dear Friend: You are, indeed, a good friend for helping in her time of need. Here’s what you need to know: His benefits cease immediately upon his death, and Social Security should be given timely notification of his passing. Typically, this is done by the funeral home if they have been given the deceased’s Social Security number, but can also be done by another trusted individual.
His benefits for the month in which he died are not payable to his survivor. For example, if he died in March the benefit received in April must be returned. If a check is received, return it (and any future checks) without cashing. If his benefits were paid by direct deposit, notify the bank to return the payment, as well as any future payments. If any of the decedent’s after-death benefits are not returned, they will eventually come after them.
Even though this couple was not legally married, she may be entitled to survivor’s benefits if she can prove to Social Security that they were in a marriage-like relationship and the state in which they resided recognizes common law marriage (state laws on common law marriage vary, and Social Security rules state that the common law marriage must have been established in a state that permits it). Proving this should start with submission to Social Security of Form SSA-754-F4 by the wife, and of Form SSA-753 by affidavits, who can be blood relatives or friends (both forms available at ssa.gov). Survivor’s benefits are somewhat age-dependent, but given the length of this couple’s relationship it’s safe to assume that when he died they were both at least at their full retirement age as defined by Social Security. Thus, in addition to the $255 lump-sum death benefit, as his widow she would be entitled to 100 percent of the benefit that he was receiving. If she is already collecting Social Security benefits based upon her own work record, and her survivor’s benefit from his work record would be higher, she will get the higher amount.
After obtaining the forms online and completing them, they should be taken to her local Social Security office, which can guide her through the rest of the process to prove her marriage and entitlement for survivor’s benefits. She can find her local office, including location and hours of operation, at www.ssa.gov/locator. These things should be done as soon as possible to make sure she gets the benefits due her quickly.
The information presented in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The opinions and interpretations expressed in this article are the viewpoints of the Association of Mature American Citizens (AMAC) Foundation’s Social Security Advisory staff. The Foundation welcomes questions from readers regarding Social Security issues. To submit a request, contact the Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.