Do I need to return Social Security benefits after my spouse dies?


Q. My wife and I are both in our 70s, healthy and receiving Social Security benefits. My question is about what needs to be paid back if someone dies. We receive our direct deposits monthly towards the end of the month. If a spouse passes away between one month’s payment and the next one, is the next payment okay for the surviving spouse to keep?
— Retiree

A. A lot will depend on the timing.

The Social Security website says you must return the benefit received for the month of death and any later months.

For example, it says, if the person died in July, you must return the benefits paid in August.

It says if you receive the funds by direct deposit, you should contact the bank and request the funds be sent back to Social Security. If you receive a check, don’t cash it for the month in which the person dies or later. Return it to the agency.

Funeral homes are the entity that most often reports a death to Social Security, said Marc Alan Lescarret, a certified financial planner with Marc Alan Wealth Management in Rockaway.

You can also call Social Security directly at (800) 772-1213.

“I would write down the date, time and the person you spoke to get clarity on payments you received and what needs to be returned,” he said.

Also note that after a spouse’s passing, you should be eligible for a one-time death benefit of $255.

You should also talk to the agency about your own future benefits.

“Since you are both in your 70s, your survival benefit could be your own Social Security benefit or your spouse’s, whichever is higher,” he said. “To collect these benefits you will need to call them or visit in person.”

You can make an appointment with your local Social Security office using the agency’s field office locator.

Email your questions to .

This story was originally published on Jan. 5, 2023. presents certain general financial planning principles and advice, but should never be viewed as a substitute for obtaining advice from a personal professional advisor who understands your unique individual circumstances.