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Can Social Security benefits go to the estate of a deceased beneficiary?

Not in the long term — you can't keep a deceased person's retirement benefits flowing to an estate.

But if a beneficiary dies before receiving a payment that is already due, Social Security can make that one payment to a family member or a legal representative of the estate. The recipient is determined in the following order — if no one matches the first criteria, the payment goes to the second, and so on:

  1. A spouse who was living with the deceased at the time of death or who, for the month of death, was drawing a spousal benefit on the record of the deceased.
  2. Children who, for the month of death, were entitled to a monthly benefit on the deceased's record.
  3. Parents who, for the month of death, were entitled to a benefit on the same record as the deceased beneficiary.
  4. A surviving spouse who does not qualify under number 1 above.
  5. Children who do not qualify under number 2.
  6. Parents who do not qualify under number 3.
  7. The legal representative of the deceased person's estate.

To claim a payment owed to a deceased beneficiary, download and fill out Form SSA-1724 (pdf) as soon as possible after the death and send it to your local Social Security office.

Keep in mind

  • Social Security payments are for the previous month's benefits and are paid only if the recipient is alive for the full month. If a beneficiary dies in December 2020, Social Security can make the November payment to a relative or estate, but the recipient will have no payment for December even if the beneficiary dies on the final day of the month.

Published February 19, 2020

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