What Happens to Your Social Security Number When You Die?

Even if you have an up-to-date estate plan, there are some logistical quirks to be aware of whenever someone passes away.  Clients frequently ask if they need to notify the Social Security Administration of the loved one’s passing.  The short answer is “no.” 

When a person dies, their death is verified by the Medical Examiner (in other states it may be a coroner or similar authority).  That verification is documented by the formal death certificate, which is processed by the state’s Department of Vital Statistics.

Once the death certificate is processed and issued by Vital Statistics, Vital Statistics notifies the Social Security Administration that the person has passed away.  This allows the Social Security Administration to update the SSA Death Master File with the deceased individual’s name and social security number.  A deceased person’s social security number can no longer be used in transactions, which is why bank accounts in the deceased person’s name are often frozen shortly after their passing.  Direct deposits will not go through, and automatic payments will also be stopped, often even without the bank being notified by the family. 

In theory, inactivating a deceased individual’s social security number and freezing his or her accounts reduces the potential for fraud and identity theft.  However, some transactions may still occur during the time after the person has passed away but before the death certificate has been issued.  This can be problematic and later require that the Estate or Trust pay money back to the Social Security Administration or pension custodian for payments that were made after death.  Still, it is best to be patient, give the processes time to work, and avoid confusing the issue by contacting the Social Security Administration.