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Can I Cash Old Benefits Checks?

They’re void after a year

En español | Q. While cleaning out my mother’s home after her death, we found Social Security checks from the 1980s. Can we cash them?

A. No. Federal law requires that Social Security checks be cashed or deposited within one year of the date of issue. Uncashed checks are void after that time.

See also: Faces of Social Security.

The Treasury Department has a form, SSA-1724, for filing a claim for replacement of an expired check due to a deceased beneficiary. But this wouldn’t work for you because the claim must be submitted within six years of the check’s issue.

In any case, you couldn’t legally cash checks made out to your mother anyway. By law, the money would belong to your mother’s estate. If the estate had already gone through probate, there are legal procedures for reopening the probate to distribute the money to the proper heirs.

Q. My father died in January. A few days later his Social Security check arrived. Can we cash it?

A. The basic rule at Social Security is that no benefit will be paid for the month of a death. It’s important to know that checks are issued the month after benefits are due. For example, December’s benefits are paid in January.

The check that arrived in January after your father’s death should be returned to Social Security. You cannot cash it because he is deceased but since it covered the month of December, when he was alive, the amount is part of his estate.

To claim the money, you (or the legal representative of the estate) can submit form SSA-1742, which concerns amounts due a deceased beneficiary. It’s available on the Social Security website.

To notify Social Security about a lost check, call 1-800-772-1213.

You may also like: Disposing of that old credit card.

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 questions? Check out the AARP Social Security Question and Answer Tool.