End of Life Planning

7/26/2021 | By Seniors Guide Staff

Though funeral fees can become extremely costly for the family of the deceased. However, it is possible to use some Social Security to pay for funeral costs. We discuss Social Security death benefits and other ways to help cover funeral service fees, including survivor benefits.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) statistics, the average cost of a funeral in the United States, including a vault, is over $9,000. That figure does not include cemetery fees, the price of a monument, flowers, or an obituary. And while choosing cremation can lower the funeral costs, you can still expect to pay around $6,500 on average. 

Paying funeral expenses can be a burden for many families. While families may have no legal responsibility to pay these costs, they often pay them in the absence of enough money in the deceased person’s estate.

Many older adults have a life insurance policy in place or have pre-paid their funeral costs, relieving their heirs of the financial burden. And many estates are substantial enough to pay for any final expenses quickly.

While there might be funeral assistance from state and local governments, anyone looking to Social Security to pay for funeral costs will likely be quite disappointed.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays a small grant

The funeral grant, first enacted in 1935, was a one-time payment of $255. In today’s dollars, that sum was the equivalent of $2,500, making it an adequate amount of support for most Americans’ funerals.

Nearly ninety years later, that amount has not been adjusted upward by Congress, so the $255 represents a contribution of about three percent of the cost of an average funeral in 2021, paid to an eligible survivor. Eligible survivors include the spouse or if the spouse is no longer living, the child of the beneficiary who meets the Social Security Administration’s criteria.

Survivor benefits also can help pay funeral expenses

The single funeral grant payment of $255 is not the same as Social Security survivors’ benefits. Survivors’ benefits are ongoing monthly payments that extend the deceased’s retirement benefits to certain survivors. These include:

  • A surviving spouse aged 60 or older, or age 50 if there is a qualifying disability
  • A surviving spouse, regardless of age, who is left to care for a minor child under the age of 18 (older children may qualify if they have a disability).
  • Unmarried minor children of the beneficiary up to age 18, or age 19 if they are full-time students
  • Adult children who are over the age of 18 but who have a permanent disability that began before age 22
  • Parents who were dependent for at least 50% of their financial support
  • Divorced former spouses, if the marriage lasted at least ten years

Survivor benefits continue the deceased’s monthly payments and will be paid as long as the recipient remains eligible. There are no restrictions on how the funds may be spent and typically are not treated as income for tax purposes. Of course, it’s always best to check with an accountant to determine how to report any Social Security income.

Applying for Social Security death benefits

Though it’s difficult to get Social Security to pay for funeral costs, there are Social Security funeral benefits. If you must apply for the one-time Social Security funeral benefit, you must fill out the Social Security Administration’s form SSA-8, available from the local SSA office, or by calling (800) 772-1213. First, gather the following documents:

  • Proof of birth, such as an original birth certificate
  • Proof of citizenship
  • Military discharge papers (only if the discharge occurred before 1968)
  • Current W-2 forms
  • A verified copy of the death certificate

If you are the claimant, you might be asked to answer a few questions to confirm your eligibility. Be ready to provide your name, address, relationship to the deceased. Also, keep in mind that if you are the next of kin of a Social Security recipient who has died, you may not cash their last benefit check but must return it in full to the SSA.

Seniors Guide Staff

Seniors Guide has been addressing traditional topics and upcoming trends in the senior living industry since 1999. We strive to educate seniors and their loved ones in an approachable manner, and aim to provide them with the right information to make the best decisions possible.

Seniors Guide Staff