We develop computable a posteriori error estimates for linear functionals of a solution to a general nonlinear stochastic differential equation with random model/source parameters. These error estimates are based on a variational analysis applied to stochastic Galerkin methods for forward and adjoint problems. The result is a representation for the error estimate as a polynomial in the random model/source parameter. The advantage of this method is that we use polynomial chaos representations for the forward and adjoint systems to cheaply produce error estimates by simple evaluation of a polynomial. By comparison, the typical method of producing such estimates requires repeated forward/adjoint solves for each new choice of random parameter. We present numerical examples showing that there is excellent agreement between these methods. © 2011 Society for Industrial and Applied Mathematics.