INmail: Social Security wants its money back

Frank: My Dad died on Dec. 20, 2020, and Social Security is asking for his December check back. I am his son and the beneficiary payee on the account. He lived with me at my home for his last seven months and you can imagine the expenses that came with it. He has $68 left in his checking account. I paid out of my pocket for his funeral. What are my chances in winning a waiver appeal or am I just wasting my time?

MBF: Please accept my condolences on the loss of your father. Your question hits close to home as the same thing happened to my family 40 years ago when my mother died at age 62 and we had to send back the one and only Social Security check she ever received.

As cruel as it may seem, the Social Security Administration requires that you return your father’s last check as detailed here in its publication, How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies (https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10008.pdf).

In part, it says: “If the deceased was receiving Social Security benefits, you must return the benefit received for the month of death or any later months. For example, if the person dies in July, you must return the benefit paid in August.” 

SSA says if you received benefits by direct deposit, contact the bank or other financial institution and ask them to return any funds received for the month of death or later. If paid by check, do not cash any checks received for the month the person dies or later. Return the checks to Social Security as soon as possible.

Sadly, as a surviving adult child, you are not even eligible for the measly one-time death payment of $255 — an amount that has not been changed since 1954. The death payment normally goes to the surviving spouse if they were living with the deceased. If living apart and eligible for certain Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record, the surviving spouse may still be able to get this one-time payment. 

If there is no surviving spouse, a child who is eligible for benefits on the deceased’s record in the month of death — generally a minor dependent child or permanently disabled adult child — can get this payment.

Mary Beth Franklin, a certified financial planner, is a contributing editor for InvestmentNews. [email protected]

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