How to Claim Union Death Benefits: Step-by-Step


We understand how difficult it is to handle financial matters while mourning a family member’s death. Even though you may be experiencing the fog of grief, you are expected to navigate websites to find contact information for a person who can help. Even after you find a person to speak with, you may be required to fill out detailed forms asking questions that need further research.

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While this task may feel unsurmountable, we encourage you to take a deep breath. Know that others have been through this before you. While claiming union death benefits may be a painful process, your loved ones would want you to receive the money owed to you.

Here are some general steps to claim union death benefits. Of course, we cannot speak to the process of specific unions. However, this will give you some guidance as you take care of this financial task. 

Steps to Claim Union Death Benefits as a Survivor or Beneficiary

Unfortunately, your ability to claim death benefits may depend on the actions of your loved ones before they die. Therefore, we will begin our discussion of union death benefits to include tasks that should have been completed before death to make things easy for the beneficiaries.

We hope that your loved one kept you informed of the death and survivor benefits available from the union. This knowledge may help you with your financial planning as you look forward to retirement. 

Besides understanding the benefits you are entitled to receive, we hope you had no problems locating the personal benefit statements and other plan information within your loved one’s personal papers. Of course, the deceased may not have physical paperwork that lists the benefits. In that case, we hope you are able to access the information online.

Having this information is especially important if the deceased is retired from the job. Of course, if the deceased had already retired, the employing organization may not know about the death and won’t be able to notify the union benefits department. Therefore, you may need to search for the union’s contact information to inform the organization about your loved one’s death.

We hope that your loved one kept an updated form that listed their beneficiary. This is especially important if your loved one had changes to their family status before they died.

Some union organizations require a signed and notarized beneficiary designation form. (Some unions go even further and state that only originals will be accepted and that copies of the document will not be recognized. In addition, the employee must provide the beneficiary’s full name, relationship, and address. The beneficiary may be a trust, estate, or charity. 

Unfortunately, you might have trouble receiving the benefit if this action wasn’t completed. Most beneficiary designation forms that are submitted after death are not recognized. 

According to one union’s benefits website, the department won’t recognize the request even if it was signed and mailed immediately before the death. This organization says that the department needed to have received the request prior to the death. 

It is also worth noting that your beneficiary designations made in your will or used by other “pension or health and welfare trusts or for other union benefits” (including life insurance) are not accepted for a pension trust benefit. This means that even if you are listed as your loved one’s beneficiary on every other document, the deceased may have needed to complete and notarize the claim beneficiary form for you to have access to those monetary benefits.

It is also interesting to note that if you are married and you do not name your spouse as your sole beneficiary, your spouse must offer their consent for this choice. The spouse must show approval by submitting a signed and notarized document. 

You might be surprised to realize that if you go through a divorce, your ex-spouse will be eligible to receive your death benefits unless the office receives a request to change the beneficiary. This means that you should consider naming a new beneficiary every time you have a significant life change – such as marriage, divorce, or death of the beneficiary.

As you can imagine, there are a lot of rules and regulations about naming a beneficiary. That’s why it is essential that you pay attention to these processes. 

The following steps will highlight what a beneficiary should do after the death of their loved one who was a union member. 

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1. Inform the union’s administrative office about your loved one’s death

Of course, informing the union’s administration office about your loved one’s death might not be necessary if the deceased was still working at the time of death. However, this task is essential if your loved one has retired from the job. 

If your loved one was receiving pension benefits at the time of death, you might hesitate to inform the company that the person is no longer living. After all, you may rely on the money to live. However, any overpayments from the union will need to be returned to the organization – so it would behoove you to inform the union as soon as possible. 

2. Prepare to give the organization a copy of your loved one’s death certificate

As in most similar situations, the beneficiary is required to submit an official death certificate or copy of it to receive benefits. 

If you are working with a full-service funeral home, the staff will probably help you obtain a copy of the death certificate of your loved one. The staff may ask how many copies are required, as there is typically a charge per copy you order. Sometimes the death certificate can be expedited, but you should expect to pay a premium fee for this request.

Make sure you understand whether the union requires an official death certificate or copy. Also, understand the submission instructions, as some organizations may require you to mail the document while others may require you to submit a copy of it through a secure website. 

3. Interact with a beneficiary expert

Hopefully, you will find a helpful person that works for your union’s benefits department to assist you. Some organizations require family members to schedule an in-person or virtual appointment to go over the records.

During the appointment (which may be as simple as a one-time phone conversation), the staff will review your plan records and advise you of the death benefits that may be payable.

4. Fill out the benefit application

You may be required to fill out a benefit application to continue the process. Again, hopefully, the union employs friendly, helpful people that will help you with this process.

Besides providing the death certificate, you may also be asked for a marriage certificate, birth certificates of the spouse and child (or adoption papers), and a Social Security Award Letter. Some organizations won’t allow you to submit the benefit application until all the necessary documents are submitted. However, some may let you file the applications while you find or order the official documents. 

» MORE: Are you preparing for the loss of a loved one? Get support now.

5. Wait for your application to be approved

Most people who have been through the process say that it requires some patience. You may be required to verify your identity to complete the process. 

Different Types of Union Death Benefits

What type of death benefits might you be entitled to receive? Here are some common death benefit categories.


A pension is a defined benefit retirement plan funded by the employer. The pool of funds is invested on the employee’s behalf. The earnings on those investments generate income for the worker upon their retirement.

If a union member had already retired when they died, the pension may end or be paid to the beneficiary at a reduced amount. The latter is called a survivor pension.

If the deceased was working at the time of death (or was on disability), the plan might pay out a lump sum to the beneficiary. Some organizations allow only the surviving spouse to receive benefit payments. However, some organizations may allow a dependent child (or other non-spouse beneficiary) to receive the benefits. 

Even if the union your loved one was a member of no longer exists, the pension may have been guaranteed as a part of a national program. Check online to see if the organization was part of this guarantee. 

For more details on how the lump sum is typically calculated, visit the next section of this article.


Some unions may offer a supplemental defined contribution savings plan, also known as a 401(k). Typically, employees contribute either a fixed amount or a percentage of their paychecks to such an account that is intended to fund their retirements. Sometimes the employer matches the contributions.

Typically, the beneficiary is given access to the entirety of the funds in a 401(k). 

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Funeral and burial benefits 

Sometimes unions offer funeral or burial benefits. While it may not be enough to pay for the entirety of the services, it can aid in the funeral expenses. 

Of course, if the union member died while performing their job, the union or company may pay for the entirety of the end-of-life expenses. 

Some unions also have partnerships with funeral homes that provide special rates for their members. 

Credit unions

Your loved one’s union membership may give you access to a credit union or a financial cooperative. In addition, some credit unions offer death benefit insurance, which will pay the beneficiary a lump sum in the event of death. 

How Are Union Death Benefits Calculated?

Of course, you should talk with your loved one’s union beneficiary department to understand how death benefits are calculated in your situation.

Generally, if the union member had not retired prior to their passing or was receiving disability, the plan may pay out a lump sum to the designated beneficiary. This sum is typically calculated by a certain multiple of the person’s salary. The multiple is determined by the length of employment and salary history. 

Of course, the employee may have needed to be vested or a member long enough to be entitled to full benefits. This is meant to encourage workers to stay on the job. 

We Are Here for You!

Sometimes you need a fresh perspective, and Cake can provide that for you. 

We know you may feel overwhelmed with all there is to do following your loss. You may feel that the process of retrieving your deceased loved one’s union benefits is overwhelming and complex. You might be discouraged because your loved one failed to meet the organization’s requirements to name a beneficiary.

While we can’t help you with your specific situation, we can help you realize that your case might not be unique. Organizations are sometimes picky about their processes, especially if a lot of money is involved.

Turn to Cake for fresh perspectives on many end-of-life topics.


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