Can I Get Back Payments for Social Security Death Benefits I Missed?

With funeral arrangements and the influx of friends and family, many surviving spouses do not apply for Social Security survivor’s benefits when they’re first eligible. At such an overwhelming time, it can be a challenge to remember to apply, and even if you do remember, the overflow of paperwork can be rather intimidating. Not applying or applying late can certainly carry financial consequences, and that’s why it’s important to be as knowledgeable as you can when it comes to the benefits you are entitled to.

You should know that Social Security grants surviving spouses a one-month grace period to apply for survivor’s benefits following the death of a loved one. This insures you one month of backpay. Your qualifications for back benefits after that becomes more complicated and depends on (1) whether you’ve reached “full retirement age” for purposes of Social Security Survivor’s Benefits; (2) whether you’re disabled; and (3) whether the deceased spouse took retirement benefits before his or her full retirement age.

The first question is to find out whether the surviving spouse has reached full retirement age (somewhere between ages 65 and 67, depending on the year of birth). To make things more complicated, a person’s full retirement age for purposes of survivor’s benefits is different than for retirement benefits.

If the surviving spouse is over full retirement age when applying for survivor’s benefits, (s)he can qualify for up to six months of back benefits. If the surviving spouse is under full retirement age, then generally spouse does not qualify for back benefits except in certain specific circumstances, such as if the benefits are at a reduced level because the deceased spouse took early benefits. Disabled surviving spouses filing for survivor’s benefits before age 61 may receive up to a full year of back benefits.  

The rules governing back benefits are complicated and can be found here.  

It’s important to get a sense of what you are entitled to prior to contacting the Social Security office as to ensure you get all the benefits you’re due.   

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Janice TamComment