How Long Does Social Security Pay for the Children of a Decedent?

The death of a parent is one of the worst things to happen to a child. Not only will the child grow up without the parent’s love and guidance, but the loss of a breadwinner may also mean severe family hardship. While nothing can bring a parent back, Social Security death benefits for children can cushion the financial blow until the child reaches the age of 18 or longer under certain circumstances.

TL;DR (Too Long; Didn't Read)

Typically, a child can receive Social Security death benefits until the age of 18, with some exceptions.

Children Who Are Eligible

As long as the child is unmarried, he can receive benefits until he turns 18, or he can continue to receive benefits if he is 19 years of age and a full-time high school student. Benefits continue until two months after the child’s 19th birthday or when he graduates from high school, whichever comes first. However, the child may continue to receive benefits if disabled. If a child becomes disabled after reaching the age of 18 but before his 22nd birthday, he may receive benefits. Eligible children include not only the late parent’s biological offspring but also adopted children or stepchildren. With stepchildren, the decedent must have been responsible for at least half of the stepchild’s living expenses or the stepchild must have lived with him. In some situations, the decedent’s grandchildren or step-grandchildren may receive benefits. That is the case if the late grandparent was the legal guardian.

Parental Disability and Retirement

A parent doesn’t have to die in order for her children to receive Social Security benefits. If the parent is disabled and can no longer work, the child may receive up to 50 percent of the disabled parent’s full retirement amount, subject to the family maximum. If the worker recovers and is able to return to employment, the child’s benefits will stop. If a worker reaches retirement age and still has minor children, those children may receive up to half of their retired parent’s full retirement amount.

Applying for Social Security Benefits

The child’s surviving parent or legal guardian must apply in person at the local Social Security office for Social Security death benefits for children. Bring the child’s birth certificate and the decedent’s death certificate. It’s crucial to contact Social Security to report the death as soon as possible so that benefits are not delayed. You must also provide the Social Security numbers of the late parent, the surviving parent and the child. Supply the late worker’s most recent W-2 forms or federal self-employment tax return. You should also have your bank’s name and your account number so that benefits are directly deposited into the account. A child’s Social Security benefit checks are made out in the name of the surviving parent or guardian.

How Children’s Benefits are Calculated

For a child to receive benefits, the late parent must have worked sufficient time in jobs for which he received Social Security benefits. This involves the earning of credits, and each person may earn up to four credits annually. For 2018, each credit is worth $1,320 of salary or self-employment income, and once the person has earned $5,280, he has earned his four credits. For children to receive the parent’s death benefit, the parent must have earned at least 40 credits during his working lifetime. However, there are exceptions. If the decedent had at least six credits for a minimum of 1.5 years of work in the three years prior to his death, benefits are payable to his children and a spouse caring for the children.

When the benefits are within the family, and when there is more than one child eligible for survivor benefits, each child might receive up to 50 percent of the late parent’s complete retirement or disability benefit. The Social Security Administration puts limits on family benefits, with a maximum that cannot exceed 150 to 180 percent of the late parent’s complete benefit amount. Should the family exceed that limit, every member’s amount is reduced proportionately, with the exception of the surviving parent, until the maximum permitted amount is reached. The amount is recalculated when a child turns 18 and no longer receives benefits. If the child receives survivor benefits per se outside of the family benefit, she may receive up to 75 percent of the late parent’s basic benefits.

As far as the child’s benefits are concerned, a surviving parent’s remarriage does not affect her. She is eligible for benefits even if the late parent was not married to the surviving parent, although the surviving parent is not entitled to spousal benefits. It also does not matter if the surviving spouse earns enough money to support the family without the help of Social Security survivor’s benefits. The children are still entitled to receive the monies.

Social Security Survivor Benefits for Spouse

If the widower takes care of minor children up until the children turn 16 or takes care of disabled children at any age if the disability occurred before age 22, he is eligible for benefits based on the record of his deceased spouse. As long as he waits until age 60 to remarry, the later survivor’s benefits are not affected. If the widower is disabled, he can remarry at age 50 or older and not have the benefits affected.

Taxes and Death Benefits for Children

Most children do not earn enough money for their Social Security death benefits to result in taxes. However, if the child has other income and that income and half of her Social Security benefits exceeds $25,000 in 2018, then her benefits are taxed. However, all Social Security benefits, taxable or not, are reported to the IRS. Recipients receive Form SSA-1099 from the Social Security Administration each year, showing the prior year’s benefits. Although a child’s Social Security benefit checks are deposited into the surviving parent’s account or made out to the parent in a check, they are not considered taxable income for the parent. The child receiving Social Security survivor benefits is still considered a dependent on the parent’s tax return as long as she resides with the parent for more than half of the year, and the parent pays for more than 50 percent of her living expenses.

Social Security Student Benefit History

Perhaps you’ll meet someone who tells you that he received survivor benefits during his college years. For 16 years, that was true. Between the years 1965 and 1981, Social Security survivor benefits for all full-time students lasted until age 22. The rationale was that college students were still dependent until they graduated, and most college students had completed their undergraduate degree by that age.

By 1977, approximately 900,000 students were receiving this benefit, but the peak year in monetary terms was a few years later. In 1981, nearly $2.4 billion was paid in this type of aid. There were serious issues on a number of fronts. First, the key term was “full-time student.” If a student dropped out or shifted to part-time status, he was not supposed to receive benefits. At the time, the Social Security Administration relied on self-reporting to stop payments, and that didn’t always work out. Overpayments to ineligible young people became a huge problem. While Social Security did try to recoup the funds, at best only about 75 percent of ineligible payments were collected. Social Security in general was facing budget problems in the early 1980s, so Congress eliminated Social Security children’s benefits for those enrolled in college full time as of August 1981, although there was a phase-out for students currently enrolled.

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