Senior Life Matters

Question; I understand that when my spouse dies I will get his Social Security. Do I still collect mine also? How do I know how much I will receive? I was also told that the Social Security Administration will help me pay for burial. Do they pay for all of it?

Question; I understand that when my spouse dies I will get his Social Security. Do I still collect mine also? How do I know how much I will receive? I was also told that the Social Security Administration will help me pay for burial. Do they pay for all of it?

Answer; When you file for Social Security, the amount you receive is based on your work history. The rule is your Social Security Benefit is based on the best 35 years of employment. If you have not worked at all, you can collect on your spouse’s work history, once you are over 62 years. In the situation when you have both worked you can collect on your work history and maybe collect an additional amount based on your spouse’s work history.

In the situation where one spouse has died, the surviving spouse should contact Social Security Administration (SSA). The funeral home or hospital usually notifies SSA of the actual event of the death. You the individual need to contact SSA to work through any benefit changes that might apply to your situation.

Contacting Social Security Administration (SSA) can be done in a number of ways. The first is by going to any local SSA office. There are three in our area, Jamestown- (321 Hazeltine Ave. Jamestown), or Olean (1618 West State Street, Olean) or Dunkirk (437 Main St. Dunkirk). These locations are open Mon, Tues, Thurs, Fri, from 9 to 4pm. On Wednesday they are all open from 9 to noon. You can also call these local offices; Jamestown-1-887-319-3079, or Olean- 1-877-319-5773, or Dunkirk- 1-888-862-2139. The hours being the same for calling as they are for going there. You can also call the national number at 1-800-772-1213, and this National number is available for extended hours, from 7am to 7pm Monday thru Friday. This national number also some pre-recorded help-line information available 24 hours a day, but to speak to a representative you must call between 7am and 7pm.

During this contact you will speak to SSA staff or receive information that will assist you through this difficult situation. They can answer questions you have regarding your current monthly benefit amount; filing for benefits if you don’t already collect benefits; and adjusting your benefit amount to the new amount. They will explain what will happen to your SSA payment and when it will take place. This conversation also will prompt a written letter you will receive later explaining what was discussed, and the final outcome of that discussion.

It is important to realize, that sometimes when you contact SSA you are given an actual appointment for a later date, sometimes up to 6 weeks later. So this process can take some time to resolve and finish, but it starts with that initial contact, so don’t put that off.

In a situation when one spouse (John) collects $1,900 in monthly Social Security and the other spouse (Joan) collects $1000 in benefits; the following two scenarios apply. If John dies and Joan is still living her SSA benefit will increase up to the $1,900 amount. She will begin collecting the higher amount of the two payments. The smaller amount no longer comes to the household. If Joan dies, her SSA benefit obviously stops and John continues to collect $1,900 like he always has. Social Security staff will explain this, but they sometimes say it differently. They would tell you that Joan’s $1000 amount continues and the additional $900 is from John’s benefits. But mathematically the $1,900 is the same to Joan. The other part that may change is that the time of the month the deposit comes. If you get your check on the second Wednesday it may change to the third or fourth Wednesday of the month, or visa versa.

Now if only all situations were that easy. Sometimes there are complications, like divorce prior to death, multiple marriages for one or both spouses, and many others. Also children surviving the person who died and those children are under the age of 18. I cannot address all those situations here. That is what SSA is going to help you with. There will also some delay in this income change, so realize the first month or two you will be living on the lower SS amount until it is adjusted, and you will get the money deposited you were due for those months, once you have had your appointment with SSA.

The second question you asked was; will SSA helping with burial costs. SSA does give surviving spouses a onetime payment of $255. There are some situations when children of the person who died can receive this one-time payment of $255. The household wouldn’t receive two (one for the surviving spouse and one for the children), it is one-time payment to one individual who qualifies.

If the individual at death is single, divorced or widowed, there is no one-time payment. This $255 can certainly be used towards burial, but it will in no way, pay for burial expenses completely.

I am hoping you asked these questions because you were curious and not facing this difficult situation in the near future. If you are close to this situation, please reach out to the resources I have included and your friends and family. We are here to help with this and many difficult situations that life throws at you.

To contact Janell Sluga, GCMC with questions or concerns, please call 716-720-9797 or e-mail her at