“There are things you learn from books and things you discover from life.”
Even those who regularly work with elderly people are surprised by the obstacles presented during the course of major life events, according to a recent article from Financial Advisor, “Working With Grieving Spouses And The Social Security Administration.”
For one such professional, the sudden loss of her grandfather meant her grandmother was without her spouse of many decades and living on her own for the first time in her life.
The author’s mother moved the grandmother into her own home and began dealing with the father’s estate and the various government agencies, including Medicare and Social Security. The Social Security Administration turned out to be more than the mother or financial professional expected.
The grandmother needed to file for Social Security survivor benefits. She had been collecting spousal benefits since age 62, and she was now 89.
Despite multiple calls and in-person visits to the local SSA office, the grandmother’s situation wasn’t resolved. Various staff members provided a great deal of inaccurate information. They even told the grandmother the funeral home had never informed the SSA of the grandfather’s passing, which was not true. There were many contradictory instructions issued, none of which made sense.
Spouses need to know what to do when their spouse dies, and they become the surviving spouse. These are admittedly grim facts to face, but as estate planning attorneys know, it is always better to be prepared before these events occur.
The surviving spouse must go to their local Social Security Administration’s office to file for Widow’s, Widower’s, or Surviving Divorced Spouse’s Benefits.
Making an appointment in advance is better than just arriving and hoping to be seen. Appointments are not technically required, but you may risk having a long wait or having to come back if the office is busy.
The Social Security Administration has an “Express Check-In” for mobile phones to use upon arrival at the office.
There are certain documents needed for this appointment. Bring everything—if you don’t have the original, a copy will do—so you don’t need a return visit because of a missing document.
Check the IRS website for their list of what information is needed when filling a claim for surviving spouse benefits and have all the answers to the questions prepared in writing.
Bring a blank check and a recent bank statement to provide your bank routing and account numbers, so monthly deposits can be made directly into the accounts.
Remember SSA representatives are not estate planning lawyers or financial advisors. They may be trying their best, but you may receive inaccurate or contradictory information. If you are not sure of the information, reach out to your estate planning attorney.
This is an extremely emotional time for the person who has just lost a loved one. If possible, have someone with you who can advocate for you if the process becomes overwhelming.
Reference: Financial Advisor (Nov. 6, 2023) “Working With Grieving Spouses And The Social Security Administration”