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Emory Law Journal Online


Section 202 of the Social Security Act, which originated in the 1939 Amendments to the 1935 Social Security Act, authorizes monthly benefits payments to an eligible person until the month prior to the month of death. Under this rule, an individual who dies on November 30th at 11:59 pm is not eligible to receive a check for benefits accrued during November because the individual failed to survive one additional minute; eligibility for payment ended on October 31st. After a beneficiary’s death, the Social Security Administration (“SSA”) either prevents deposit of a check for month-of-death benefits or mandates return of monies deposited prior to receiving notice of death. Thereafter, survivors often struggle to pay a deceased beneficiary’s expenses or reimburse the SSA for deposited money used to benefit the deceased beneficiary.

This paper argues for a modification to the Social Security payment schedule to provide a final payment to beneficiaries for benefits accrued during the month of death. The proposal prorates payments during the first and last months of eligibility according to the number of eligible days in each of those months. While increased Social Security benefits may add financial cost to the system, any added expense represents a small fraction of annual SSA expenditures and would not be administratively burdensome for the SSA given its annual calculations of cost-of-living adjustments. In the end, prorating the first and last Social Security payments not only better computes the actual sums due to beneficiaries as compared to the current rule, but also promotes the “family security” contemplated by amendments made to the Social Security program over eight decades ago.

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