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

Social Security benefits for children help survivors with living expenses.

Social Security benefits for children help survivors with living expenses.

Social Security survivor benefits ease the financial hardship that a family could experience after the loss of one or both wage earners in the home. An adult parent or guardian of dependent children of the decedent will be the recipient and manager of the children's Social Security payments. The age of an eligible dependent child is the main factor that determines the amount of time that the surviving parent or guardian receives monthly payments from Social Security for the child. The deceased worker’s earnings determine the total amount paid to each child and each household.

Eligible Children

Only unmarried natural or adopted and stepchildren who are under age 18 are eligible to receive survivor benefits based on the earnings of a decedent. If a surviving child who is in school full-time has not completed high school by age 18, survivor benefits will continue until that child is 19. Children whose grandparents are their legal guardians are eligible for benefits as the survivor of the deceased guardian grandparent. Unmarried, disabled adult dependents are eligible to receive survivor benefits after age 18 if the disability began before age 22.

Benefit Eligibility

Children are eligible for survivor benefits only if the deceased worker has met specific wage-earning requirements. Social Security pays survivor benefits to children of a decedent who has accrued 40 calendar quarters of eligible earnings between age 21 and the date of death. Children of a worker who accrued eligible earnings during six of the 13 quarters immediately before the date of death are also eligible for benefits. These rules also apply to survivor benefits from guardian grandparents.

Benefit Amounts

The Social Security Administration uses the maximum benefit payment that an eligible worker would have received at full retirement age to calculate survivor benefit payments for dependent children. A surviving child's maximum benefit amount is either 50 percent of the deceased worker's earned benefit at full retirement age or 75 percent of the worker's available benefit amount before full retirement age. Divorce and remarriage does not decrease the benefit amount Social Security pays to each child who is an eligible survivor of the deceased worker.

Household Restrictions

Social Security reduces individual survivor benefits when more than one child beneficiary lives in the same household. The total payments for all household members cannot be more than 150 to 180 percent of the amount that the disabled worker would have received monthly. As a rule, when the decedent has a surviving spouse, Social Security also factors this benefit amount into the household maximum. In multi-beneficiary households, individual payments for each child who is not 18 increase proportionately whenever a surviving dependent becomes ineligible for benefits at age 18. Increased payments for each remaining child do not increase the allowable household maximum.

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