The Social Security Administration (SSA) offers survivors benefits to the widow or children of the deceased. The widow and children must meet SSA guidelines to receive the benefits, not the deceased. If you're the survivor of someone who committed suicide, you may wonder if you can collect on Social Security benefits. Spouses and children of individuals are eligible for benefits, but they may be denied if the death was found to be intentional.
Although in most cases Social Security does not pay survivor benefits when the deceased intentionally commits suicide, there are a few exceptions to the rule.
To collect benefits on a deceased spouse, you must have been married for at least nine months prior to the death. If not, the death must not have been foreseeable at the time the wedding took place. The death also must have been accidental. The Social Security Administration defines accidental as having been "caused by an event that the insured did not expect." In Regulation § 404.335, the SSA explicitly states, "An intentional and voluntary suicide will not be considered an accidental death." For that reason, it may seem at the outset that the claim will be denied. However, don't lose hope. You should still submit your paperwork, since the SSA does review each case and may allow it through, depending on the circumstances.
Consult the Death Certificate
In order to get your Social Security benefits, you'll need to present the death certificate of the deceased. On this certificate, the coroner will have listed a cause of death. The options are: natural, accident, suicide, homicide, pending investigation and could not be determined. If the coroner cannot definitively state that the cause of death was suicide, you'll likely see one of the latter two boxes checked. In this instance, you should be entitled to the social security benefits of the deceased.
Even if the death certificate lists "suicide" as the cause, don't throw in the towel. The SSA recognizes that suicide isn't a black-and-white issue and has allowed for that in its policies. In the event of a suicide, agents are instructed to gather as much information as possible about the deceased's mental state prior to the event. If your loved one is found to have been under the influence of a severe mental illness, the act is not considered to be "intentional and voluntary." If the illness was so serious that the person either didn't understand his actions could result in death or was acting under a delusion that it caused mental impairment, the death may still be ruled accidental and result in benefits being granted.
If you're approved, there are a few things to know. You'll receive a one-time payment of $225, plus lifetime payments, depending on the amount your loved one paid in during his lifetime. To qualify for survivors benefits, the deceased's spouse must be at least 60 years old, at least 50 and disabled or any age and caring for a child under age 16. Divorced spouses can collect survivors benefits from the deceased former spouse if the marriage lasted for at least 10 years, as long as they haven't remarried. Children can collect survivors benefits if the child is under 18, or up to 19 if she is in high school. If a child was disabled prior to age 22, she can collect survivors benefits for as long as the disability persists. Parents of a deceased person can also receive survivors benefits if they are dependent on the deceased’s income and are over age 62.
- SSA: How Social Security Can Help You When a Family Member Dies
- Benefits.gov: Social Security Surviving Divorced Spouse Benefits
- Social Security: Code of Federal Regulations
- CDC: Instructions for Completing the Cause-of-Death Section of the Death Certificate
- SSA: Program Operations Manual System (POMS)
Calla Hummel is a doctoral student studying contraband in international political economy. She supplements her student stipend by writing about personal finance and working as a consultant, as well as hoping that her investments will pan out.