How Long Does it Take to Receive Death Benefits?

by Jeannine Mancini

The Social Security Administration offers benefits to help families financially after the death of a loved one. The type of assistance you can receive depends on the decedent's work history and your relationship. In addition to the Social Security benefits, some people choose to purchase life insurance. Policies and coverage can vary greatly, and there is no specified time frame for receiving death benefits. Depending on the type of benefits available, you may receive payments right away or years down the road.

Life Insurance Proceeds

If the decedent had a life insurance policy, designated beneficiaries may be entitled to a payout. Life insurance proceeds do not go through probate. Even if the decedent passed away with debt, the life insurance proceeds are protected from creditor claims. The length of time it takes an insurance company to pay a claim depends on how quickly documentation is submitted, how long the policy was in effect, and how efficient the claims department is when processing requests. Any question about the cause of death can delay processing. The insurance company may offer expedited payment services to access funds for funeral and burial planning.

Social Security Death Benefit

A surviving spouse or dependent child may be entitled to a lump-sum death benefit from the Social Security Administration if the decedent worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits. At the time of publication, the one-time benefit amount was $255, although it is subject to change. The payment is designed to help with the funeral expenses or other related costs. Generally, the surviving spouse will receive the benefit if living in the same household when the spouse died. A surviving spouse living in a separate household at the time of death can receive the benefit if during the month the decedent died the spouse was already receiving benefits on the worker's record, or became eligible for survivor benefits upon the worker's death. If there is no surviving spouse, a child may qualify. The surviving spouse or child must apply for this payment within two years of the date of death.

Social Security Survivor Benefits

Social Security survivor benefits are available to surviving spouses and their dependent or disabled children if the deceased spouse earned enough credits during working years. The number of credits needed depend on the decedent's age at death. Younger people require fewer credits, but no one needs more than 40 credits, which is equivalent to 10 years of work. If you were divorced at the time of death, you may still qualify if your marriage lasted 10 years or longer. An ex-spouse does not have to meet the length of marriage requirement if the ex-spouse is caring for the decedent's child who is under the age of 16 or disabled. An unmarried child can receive benefits until age 18 or up to age 19 if still attending elementary or secondary school. If you have the worker's dependent child, you are entitled to benefits right away. If you do not have dependent children, you can begin receiving reduced benefits at age 60 and full benefits at retirement age. If you are disabled, you can receive benefits at age 50.

Applying for Social Security Benefits

After a death, notify Social Security right away. In some cases, the funeral director will report the death to Social Security on behalf of the family. You can apply for Social Security benefits over the phone by calling the Social Security Administration or in person at a local office branch. You will need information about the decedent along with certain documentation, such as his birth certificate, death certificate and W-2 forms. Although copies of W-2 forms or other types of income verification are accepted, the Social Security Administration requires an original birth certificate and death certificate. If you have applied for Social Security survivor benefits after the first month in which you are eligible, your first check may include retroactive benefits. If you already receive Social Security benefits, the additional death or survivor benefits may be paid automatically with your regular payment.

About the Author

Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She has also written for Chron, San Francisco Chronicle, The Nest, Opposing Money Views and The Motley Fool. She earned a Bachelor of Science in interdisciplinary Ssudies from the University of Central Florida.