Social Security Survivor Benefits
The following checklist will help you claim Survivor or Death Benefits for Children, Widows and Widowers correctly so that you will receive payments promptly.
Eligibility for Social Security Survivor Benefits
The deceased worker must have credit for work covered by Social Security, ranging from 1.5 to 10 years depending on his or her age at death.
Those who may receive monthly benefits are:
- A widow or widower age 60 (50 if disabled) or older or at any age if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
- A divorced widow or widower age 60 (50 if disabled) or older if the marriage lasted 10 years or if caring for an entitled child who is under 16 or disabled.
- Unmarried children up to 18 (19 if they are attending a primary or secondary school full-time).
- Children who were disabled before reaching 22, as long as they remained disabled.
- Dependent parent or parents 62 or older.
Lump-Sum Death Payment
A one-time benefit of $255 is paid in addition to the monthly cash benefits described above. This lump-sum death payment (LSDP) is paid in the following priority order:
- A surviving spouse who lived in the same household as the deceased person at the time of death.
- A surviving spouse eligible for or entitled to benefits for the month of death.
- A child or children eligible for or entitled to benefits for the month of death.
Applying for Social Security Survivor Benefits
You must apply in order to receive benefits. You may apply at any Social Security office or, if you wish, you may apply by telephone. Just dial 800-772-1213, and the operator will schedule an appointment for you or arrange for the local Social Security office to take your claim by telephone.
Contacting Social Security
You may call Social Security toll-free, 365 days a year, 24 hours a day. The number to use is 800-772-1213. To speak with a representative, call between the hours of 7:00am and 7:00pm on regular business days. At other times and on weekends and holidays, you may leave a message, and they will call you back, in most cases, the next business day.
You may use the toll-free number to make an appointment either in a Social Security office or telephone to apply for benefits, transact other Social Security business, or just ask questions.
Veteran’s Burial Benefits
Veteran’s burial benefits are not paid automatically. It is your responsibility to contact the Veterans Administration.
Who is Eligible for Burial Benefits?
To qualify for burial benefits, the deceased must have been a veteran discharged or separated from active duty under conditions other than dishonorable and completed the required period of service.
U.S. Armed Forces members who die on active duty are also eligible, as are spouses and dependent children of eligible living and deceased veterans, and of current and deceased armed forces members.
Contact the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs at 800-827-1000 for more information.
How to Apply for Burial Benefits
To ensure prompt handling of your claim, have the following information ready:
- Social Security number for yourself and your dependent children.
- Certified copy of original DD Form 214 (Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty).
- Certified copy of Death Certificate.
- Verification of the life insurance amount you will receive as a result of the veteran’s death.
- Paid receipts for hospital and doctor bills incurred by last illness, if applicable.
- Paid receipts for funeral and cemetery expenses.
- If either yourself or the veteran was previously married, provide a certified copy of the original divorce decree or death certificate proving the previous marriage was dissolved by divorce or death.
- If there are dependent children, you will need an original birth certificate for each child under 18 or over 18 if full-time student.
- If over 18 and still in school, you will need to fill out VA Form 21-674.
- If you or the veteran receive Social Security Benefits, the exact amount must be reported.
- If you already have a VA claim number, you must furnish the claim number you have been assigned.
- If you or the veteran receive additional income, the source and exact amount must be reported.
Reimbursement of Burial Expenses
VA will pay a burial allowance up to $2,000 if the veteran’s death is service connected. VA also will pay the cost of transporting the remains of a service-disabled veteran to the national cemetery nearest the home of a deceased that has available grave sites. In such cases, the person who bore the veteran’s burial expenses may claim reimbursement from VA.
VA will pay a $300 burial and funeral expense allowance for veterans who, at time of death, were entitled to receive pension or compensation or would have been entitled to compensation but for receipt of military retirement pay.
The deceased is also eligible for a burial allowance if he or she died in a VA facility or a nursing home that is VA-contracted. Additional costs of transporting the remains may be reimbursed.
There is no time limit for filing reimbursement claims of service-connected deaths. In other deaths, claims must be filed within two years after permanent burial or cremation.
VA will pay a $300 plot allowance when the veteran is not buried in a cemetery that is under U.S. Government jurisdiction if the veteran:
- is discharged from active duty because of disability incurred or aggravated in line of duty
- was in receipt of compensation or pension or would have been in receipt of compensation but for receipt of military retired pay
- died while hospitalized by VA.
The plot allowance is not payable solely on wartime service. If the veteran is buried without charge for the cost of a plot or interment in a state-owned cemetery reserved solely for veteran burials, the $300 plot allowance may be paid to the state. Burial expenses paid by the deceased’s employer or a state agency will not be reimbursed.
VA provides an American flag to drape the casket of a veteran and to a person entitled to retired military pay. After the funeral service, the flag may be given to the next-of-kin or a close associate. VA also will issue a flag on behalf of a service member who was missing in action and later presumed dead. Flags are issued at VA regional offices, national cemeteries, and post offices.
Burial in National Cemeteries and VA Cemeteries
Burial benefits in a VA national cemetery include the gravesite, opening and closing of the grave, and perpetual care. Many national cemeteries have columbaria for the inurnment of cremated remains or special grave sites for the burial of cremated remains. Headstones and markers and their placement are provided at the government’s expense.
Veterans and armed forces members who die on active duty are eligible for burial in one of VA’s 114 national cemeteries. An eligible veteran must have been discharged or separated from active duty under honorable or general conditions and have completed the required period of service. Persons entitled to retired pay as a result of 20 year’s creditable service with a reserve component are eligible. A U.S. citizen who served in the armed forces of a government allied with the United States in a war also may be eligible.
Spouses and minor children of eligible veterans and of armed forces members also may be buried in a national cemetery. A surviving spouse of an eligible veteran who married a non-veteran, and whose remarriage was terminated by death or divorce, is eligible for burial in a national cemetery.
Gravesites in national cemeteries cannot be reserved. Funeral directors or others making burial arrangements must apply at the time of death. Reservations made under previous programs are honored. The National Cemetery System does not normally conduct burials on weekends. However, a weekend caller will be directed to one of three strategically located VA cemetery offices that remain open during weekends to schedule burials at the caller’s choice of cemetery in the following week.
Headstones and Markers
VA provides headstones and markers for the unmarked graves of veterans anywhere in the world and for eligible dependents of veterans buried in national, state veteran or military cemeteries.
Flat bronze, flat granite, flat marble, upright granite and upright marble types are available to mark the grave in a style consistent with the place of burial. Niche markers also are available to mark columbaria used for inurnment of cremated remains.
Headstones and markers are inscribed with the name of the deceased, the years of birth and death, and branch of service. Optional items that also may be inscribed at VA expense are: military grade, rank or rate; war service such as World War II; months and days of birth and death; an emblem reflecting one’s beliefs; valor awards; and the Purple Heart. Additional items may be inscribed at private expense.
When burial is in a national, state veteran or military cemetery, the headstone or marker is ordered through the cemetery, which will place it on the grave. Information regarding style, inscription, shipping and placement can be obtained from the cemetery.
When burial occurs in a cemetery other than a national cemetery or a state veterans’ cemetery, the headstone or marker must be applied for from VA. It is shipped at government expense to the consignee designated on the application. However, VA does not pay the cost of placing the headstone or marker on the grave.
To apply, you must complete VA form 40-1330. Be sure to include telephone numbers and signatures. Use the information on the DD-214 and other supporting documents to help you fill out the application as completely as possible. Forms and assistance are available at VA regional offices. To apply, mail your application to the Quantico, Virginia, mailing address. You may use either the US Postal Service, or one of the mail delivery services commercially available. Their address is:
Memorial Programs Service (41A1)
Department of Veterans Affairs
5109 Russell Road
Quantico, VA 22134-3903
For information regarding the status of an application, you may call the Director, Office of Memorial Programs (403B3) at 800-697-6947. VA cannot issue a headstone or marker for a spouse or child buried in a private cemetery. Twenty year reservists without active duty service are eligible for a headstone or marker, if they are entitled to military retired pay at the time of death.
Headstones or Markers for Memorial Plots
To memorialize an eligible veteran whose remains are not available for burial, VA will provide a plot and headstone or marker in a national cemetery. The headstone or marker is the same as that used to identify a grave except that the mandatory phrase “In Memory of” precedes the authorized inscription. The headstone or marker is available to memorialize eligible veterans or deceased active-duty members whose remains were not recovered or identified, were buried at sea, donated to science, or cremated and scattered.
The memorial marker may be provided for placement in a cemetery other than a national cemetery. In such a case, VA supplies the marker and pays the cost of shipping, but does not pay for the plot or the placement of the marker. Only a relative recognized as the next-of-kin may apply for the benefit.
Presidential Memorial Certificates
The Presidential Memorial Certificate is a parchment certificate with a calligraphic inscription expressing the nation’s recognition of the veteran’s service. The veteran’s name is inscribed and the certificate bears the signature of the President. Certificates are issued in the name of honorably discharged, deceased veterans. Eligible recipients include next-of-kin, other relatives and friends.
The award of a certificate to one eligible recipient does not preclude certificates to other eligible recipients. The veteran may have died at any time in the past. The local VA regional office generally originates the application for a Presidential Memorial Certificate. The next-of-kin also may request a certificate. Requests should be accompanied by a copy of a document such as a discharge to establish honorable service. VA regional offices can assist in applying for certificates.