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Who Is Eligible to Receive the Social Security Death Benefit?

The $255 could go to a surviving spouse or child

En español | Q. I know Social Security pays a $255 death benefit to the family of a person who dies. Who exactly is eligible to receive this? And how do you apply?

A. The death benefit is a lump sum, paid upon the death of a person who worked long enough to qualify for Social Security benefits. It goes to a surviving spouse who was living in the person's household at the time of death, or, if living apart, was receiving certain Social Security benefits on the deceased's record.

If there's no eligible spouse, the $255 may go to a child who is eligible for benefits on the person's record in the month of death. No qualifying recipient means no payment — it cannot, for example, go to the funeral home. To apply, call 1-800-772-1213 or contact your local Social Security office.

Stan Hinden, a former columnist for the Washington Post, wrote How to Retire Happy: The 12 Most Important Decisions You Must Make Before You Retire. Have a question for the Social Security Mailbox? Check out the archive. If you don't find your answer there, send a query.


Also of interest: Top 25 Social Security questions. >>

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