Vernoia, Enterline + Brewer, CPA LLC

When an individual dies, certain family members may be eligible for Social Security benefits. In certain cases, the recipient of Social Security survivor benefits may incur a tax liability.

Family members

Family members who can collect benefits include children if they are unmarried and are younger than 18 years old; or between 18 and 19 years old, but in an elementary or secondary school as full-time students; or age 18 or older and severely disabled (the disability must have started before age 22).  If the individual has enough credits, Social Security pays a one-time death benefit of $255 to the decedent’s spouse or minor children if they meet certain requirements.

Benefit amount

The benefit amount is based on the earnings of the decedent.  The more the decedent paid into Social Security, the larger the benefit amount. Social Security uses the decedent’s basic benefit amount and calculates what percentage survivors may receive. That percentage depends on the age of the survivors and their relationship to the decedent. Children, for example, receive 75 percent of the decedent’s benefit amount.

Taxation

The person who has the legal right to receive Social Security benefits must determine whether the benefits are taxable. For example, if a taxpayer receives checks that include benefits paid to the taxpayer and the taxpayer’s child, the child’s benefits are not considered in determining whether the taxpayer’s benefits are taxable. Instead, one half of the portion of the benefits that belongs to the child must be added to the child’s other income to see whether any of those benefits are taxable to the child.

Social security benefits are included in gross income only if the recipient’s “provisional income” exceeds a specified amount, called the “base amount” or “adjusted base amount.”  There are two tiers of benefit inclusion. A 50-percent rate is used to figure the taxable part of income that exceeds the base amount but does not exceed the higher adjusted base amount. An 85-percent rate is used to figure the taxable part of income that exceeds the adjusted base amount.

Up to 50 percent of Social Security benefits could be included in taxable income if a recipient’s provisional income is more than the following base amounts:

–$25,000 for single individuals, qualifying surviving spouses, heads of household, and married individuals who live apart from their spouse for the entire tax year and file a separate return; and

–$32,000 for married individuals filing a joint return;

–zero for married individuals who do not file a joint return and do not live apart from their spouse during the entire tax year

Up to 85 percent of benefits could be included in taxable income if a recipient’s provisional income is more than the following adjusted base amounts:

–$34,000 for single individuals, qualifying surviving spouses, heads of household, and married individuals who live apart from their spouse for the entire tax year and file a separate return; and

–$44,000 for married individuals filing a joint return;

–zero for married individuals who do not file a joint return and do not live apart from their spouse during the entire tax year.

If the taxpayer’s provisional income does not exceed the base amount, no part of Social Security benefits will be taxed. For taxpayers whose income exceeds the base amount, but not the higher adjusted base amount, the amount of benefits that must be included in income is the lesser of:

–One-half of the annual benefits received; or

–One-half of the amount that remains after subtracting the appropriate base amount from the taxpayer’s provisional income.

Taxpayers whose provisional income exceeds the adjusted base amount must include in income the lesser of:

–85 percent of the annual benefits received; or

–85 percent of the excess of the taxpayer’s provisional income over the applicable adjusted base amount plus the smaller of: (a) the amount calculated under the 50-percent rules above, or (b) one-half of the difference between the taxpayer’s applicable adjusted base amount and the applicable base amount. One-half of the difference between the base amount and the adjusted base amount is $6,000 for married taxpayers filing jointly and $4,500 for other taxpayers. For taxpayers who are married, not living apart from their spouse, and filing separately, the amount will always be zero.

If you have any questions about the taxation of Social Security benefits, please contact our office at (908) 725-4414

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