Does Social Security Pay For Cremation?

Article Summary:

Social Security benefits do not cover the cost of cremation or any other type of funeral arrangements. However, there is a lump sum death benefit of $255 that the surviving spouse or children may be able to collect. In addition, survivors of the deceased may be eligible for monthly benefits as well if they meet certain requirements, and some of that money could be used for cremation.

A death in the family is nearly always a heartbreaking experience, even if the death was expected due to old age or illness. Planning a funeral on top of that trauma only adds to the stress of the situation. Maybe your spouse or parent has stipulated in their will that cremation is their preference. Or perhaps prior to death, the deceased may not have made their wishes known. Either way, this is a difficult time, and worrying about how to finance a funeral on top of grieving is not an enviable experience.

Ideally, individuals will make their wishes known after death, either on paper or verbally, but that’s not always the case. In that case, the family might be wondering what to do now as well as how and where help is available.

Does Social Security pay for cremation?

The short answer is no, Social Security does not pay for cremation. However, there are ways that Social Security benefits can assist a family in paying for that and other funeral expenses. Certain family members can be eligible for monthly Social Security benefits. There is also a small lump-sum death benefit that can often be paid out immediately to the spouse or children of the deceased, if certain qualifications apply.

The first thing to do is notify the Social Security Administration of the death right away, particularly if you have a low income, and there is an imminent need for those funds. Often, the funeral home will call Social Security for you, giving the family one less thing to worry about during this difficult time.

Eligibility for lump-sum death benefit

The surviving spouse is eligible to receive the lump-sum death benefit of $255 if they were living with the deceased at the time of his or her death. If they were living apart at the time, but are still eligible for some benefits on the deceased’s record, they may be able to receive the death payment.

What if there is no surviving spouse?

If the deceased had no surviving spouse, a child or children who were eligible for Social Security benefits on the deceased’s record during the month of death may be entitled to the lump-sum death benefit.

Eligibility for survivor benefits

Certain family members may also be eligible to receive monthly benefits. These benefits may support:

  • A widow or widower age 60 or older (age 50 or older if they have a disability)
  • A surviving divorced spouse, under certain circumstances
  • An unmarried child of the deceased who is one of the following:
    • Younger than age 18 (or up to age 19 if they are a full-time student in an elementary or secondary school)
    • Age 18 or older with a disability that began before age 22
  • A stepchild, grandchild, step-grandchild, or adopted child, under certain circumstances
  • A widow or widower at any age who is caring for the deceased’s child who is under age 16, or has a disability and receives child’s benefits
  • Parents, age 62 or older, who were dependent on the deceased for at least half of their support

How to apply for survivor benefits

Upon the death of a loved one, the surviving spouse should apply as soon as possible for Social Security benefits, as payments may not be retroactive to the date of death. Applying online isn’t an option, so you must call or visit your local Social Security office. The information you may need to supply includes:

  • Proof of death — death certificate or notification from funeral home
  • Deceased’s Social Security number
  • Surviving spouse’s Social Security number
  • Surviving spouse’s birth certificate
  • The marriage certificate (if applying as a widow or widower)
  • Divorce papers (if applying as a divorced widow or widower)
  • Dependent children’s Social Security numbers and birth certificates or adoption papers
  • The W-2 forms of the deceased, or self-employed tax returns if needed
  • The name and details of your financial institution, if applying for direct deposit

Survivor benefit amounts

Survivor benefits are somewhat complex and greatly vary based on your relationship with the deceased. For example, if you are a widow or widower and have reached full retirement age, you can receive 100% of the benefits. If you’re near retirement age, you’re entitled to 99% of the benefits.

From there, the percentage of benefits decreases and gets more complicated depending on what type of beneficiary you are. If you’re a child of the deceased, a dependent parent, a widow or widower under 60, or if you’re disabled or even a divorced spouse, the amounts you qualify for will vary. Because of this, we recommend contacting your Social Security office to determine the particulars.

Pro Tip

You can’t apply for the survivor benefits or the death payment online. Instead, you need to call 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778), or visit your local Social Security office.

Cremation funeral options

Like burial funerals, there are several different options when planning a cremation. Depending on the details, they are often more affordable.

The three basic choices are a traditional service with a viewing, a cremation with a memorial service (no body present), or a direct cremation where there is no service at all. The deceased’s wishes and/or the family’s budget will determine which option is most appropriate.

Item20212016% Change
Nondeclinable basic services fee$2,300$2,1009.50%
Removal/transfer of remains to funeral home$350$3257.70%
Other preparation of the body$275$25010.00%
Use of facilities/staff for viewing$450$4255.90%
Use of facilities/staff for funeral ceremony$515$5003.00%
Service car/van$150$1500.00%
Printed materials (basic memorial package)$183$16014.10%
Cremation fee (if firm uses a third-party)*$368$3505.00%
Cremation casket$1,310$1,00031.00%
Median Cost of a Funeral with Viewing and Cremation$6,970$6,26011.30%
* 59.9% of respondents use a third-party crematory (i.e., the funeral home does not own a crematory)

** The overall rate of inflation was 13.98% for the same period. (source)

Many times, in the midst of their grief, people are tempted to put funeral costs on their credit cards because of the ease of use and desire to quickly get past this painful process. However, with high-interest credit card rates, that’s not always the best way to go, and you may regret it.

It might make more sense to take out a funeral or lower-interest personal loan to give your loved one the perfect send-off, while at the same time giving yourself a period of time to pay back the loan.

What is the cheapest form of cremation?

The least expensive way to achieve cremation is to donate your body to science. The medical center or hospital that you choose to donate to will usually cover the cost of cremation, and also return the remains if those are the family’s wishes.

Some people may feel uncomfortable with this. However, if possible, it’s important to comply with the deceased’s wishes, who would have had to agree to this prior to passing away.

Another possibility is to have a direct cremation. This is the most basic option, where the body is cremated, the remains are returned to the family, and there is no service. There will still be costs associated with the services of the funeral home and transportation of the body, but short of whole-body donation, this is the most affordable cremation option. An informal family memorial at a later date is a respectable way to have a celebration of life for your loved one.

Key Takeaways

  • Social Security will not pay for cremation, but they may have resources you could use to help with funeral expenses.
  • For qualifying family members, there is a lump-sum death benefit of $255.
  • As a beneficiary of survivor benefits, it’s important to notify your Social Security office right away to determine your eligibility.
  • Certain family members may qualify for survivor benefits.
  • If you cannot afford to finance a funeral or cremation out-of-pocket, you may be able to receive a funeral or personal loan at a reasonable rate.
View Article Sources
  1. Who can get Social Security survivors benefits and how do I apply? — Social Security Administration
  2. How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies — Social Security Administration
  3. What Should You Do if You Can’t Afford a Funeral? — SuperMoney
  4. What are the Best Ways to Finance a Funeral? — SuperMoney
  5. Planning an Affordable Funeral: Where to Find Funeral Financing Assistance — SuperMoney
  6. What’s the Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service? — SuperMoney
  7. Everything You Need to Know About Funeral Costs And How to Afford It — SuperMoney
  8. Are Funeral Expenses Tax-Deductible? — SuperMoney
  9. Does Medicare Cover Funeral Expenses? — SuperMoney
  10. The Definitive Guide to Funeral Financing Loans — SuperMoney