Losing a parent is never easy, especially for a young child. But if one or both of your parents die, depending on your age, you may be entitled to their Social Security benefits. In 2017 alone, the Social Security Administration distributed an estimated $2.6 billion on average each month to children of recipients who were disabled, retired or deceased. But there are specific qualifications for receiving these benefits, including age and your disability status.
About Social Security Benefits
From the day you start working, you begin building savings for your retirement. This is usually seen in the taxes your employer takes out of each check, and you’ll see it under the heading of “FICA.” If you’re self-employed, you’ll pay Social Security out of your earnings when you file your taxes. Currently, U.S. taxpayers pay 6.2 percent of their earned income to Social Security. You’ll pay into this account all your life, and once you qualify, you’ll begin receiving payments from the Social Security Administration.
To qualify to receive Social Security, you’ll need to reach the official retirement age, which is 62 at the very earliest, unless you become disabled. If you were born after 1959, you wouldn’t be able to receive full benefits until you reach the age of 67. You can receive partial benefits starting at the age of 62, but this will significantly reduce the amount you receive. If you qualify as having a disability, though, you can begin taking those benefits earlier. To qualify for Social Security benefits before your retirement age, you’ll need to meet the IRS’s qualification requirements for disability, plus you’ll need to have worked long enough to have paid enough in Social Security to cover the amount you’re taking out.
Survivor Benefits for a Child
Part of the money you pay into Social Security with each paycheck goes to survivor’s insurance. This means if something happens to you, your survivors may still be able to receive your benefits. If a spouse or ex-spouse dies and you qualify, this means you’ll get a surprise source of income. But you may not realize that your children may also qualify for the same benefits.
When a person dies, generally the funeral home requests the person’s Social Security number from the family members making arrangements. The funeral home will then report the death to the Social Security Administration, which will seek out survivors and notify them that they may be eligible for benefits. If this doesn’t happen, you can call 1-800-772-1213 during business hours and speak to a representative to get things moving forward.
Immediate Death Benefits
The Social Security Administration will issue a one-time payment of $255 to a deceased person’s spouse, assuming you were living together at the time of death. If you die with no qualifying spouse, the $255 death benefit will go to your eligible children.
After death, some survivors may be eligible to receive monthly Social Security benefits based on what you paid in. These include qualifying spouses and some children. The children, though, must be unmarried and younger than the age of 18, or under the age of 20 if they’re in elementary or secondary school full time. If a child has a disability that presented before the age of 22, he may also be eligible for benefits, even if he’s over the maximum age.
Benefits for Nonbiological Children
Social Security survivor benefits for a child don’t only apply to birth children. An increasing number of families are nontraditional, with many people parenting stepchildren and adopted children. In some cases, stepchildren, adopted children, grandchildren and step-grandchildren may qualify for a deceased parent’s Social Security benefits.
There are restrictions related to this, though. To qualify, any child must have relied on the deceased parent for at least half her support before that parent’s death. This applies whether the child is biological, adopted or a stepchild. For Social Security purposes, the child’s parents must have married after that child was born. If the parents were married before the child was born, that child isn’t considered a stepchild for Social Security purposes, and the nonbiological parent will likely have to adopt the child for Social Security benefits to apply in the event of that parent’s death. The child must also have been a stepchild to the deceased parent for at least nine months before that parent’s death.
Widows Caring for Children
Divorced spouses only receive benefits if they meet the minimum marriage timeframe. A couple must have been married at least 10 years, and the widow may not have remarried to qualify for an ex-spouse’s benefits. However, there is one instance in which an ex-spouse may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits even if he wasn’t married to the deceased person for 10 years or longer.
If an ex-spouse is taking care of a qualifying child, he may be eligible for Social Security benefits for the child’s deceased parent, as long as the child is under the age of 16. If the child is disabled, the maximum age rule doesn’t apply. To qualify, though, the child in your care must be either the biological child of the deceased ex-spouse or a child he legally adopted.
Amount of Social Security Benefits
A child’s benefits can vary depending on the size of the family. The government uses a formula that includes any Social Security spousal death benefits, as well as benefits paid out to other qualifying survivors. A child can receive up to half of her parent’s retirement or disability benefits after death. If there is no qualifying spouse and the child gets the full survivor’s benefits, that amount can be as high as 75 percent.
For each family, there is a limit to how much can be paid per taxpayer. The total amount can be as high as between 150 and 180 percent of the full benefits that parent would have received. However, when there are multiple survivors, each person’s benefits will be reduced proportionally, except for payments to the spouse, which remain the same.
Payments to Ex-Spouses
Although Social Security widow benefits can extend to ex-spouses, it’s important to note that the amount paid to a deceased person’s ex does not reduce the amount that goes to the current spouse. If the ex was your spouse for 10 years or longer and meets other qualifications, he could receive the same benefits as the spouse you were married to at the time of your death. However, if your ex-spouse qualifies for benefits of his own, he’ll be able to switch to his own Social Security benefits when he reaches the minimum age.
Whether or not a remarried ex-spouse qualifies for survivor benefits depends on when that ex-spouse remarried. If she remarried before the age of 60, she wouldn’t be eligible for benefits. The only exception to this is if she’s disabled. In that case, she’ll have to have remarried after turning 50. But if she remarried before the age of 60 and that marriage didn’t work out, the now-single spouse may once again qualify to receive benefits upon your death. Upon an ex-spouse’s death, the Social Security Administration generally contacts all surviving spouses and ex-spouses and can help ex-spouses determine if they qualify.
- IRS: Topic Number: 751 - Social Security and Medicare Withholding Rates
- SSA: Benefits Planner: Disability | How You Qualify
- SSA: Benefits Planner: Survivors | If You Are The Survivor
- Disability Secrets: Are Social Security Dependents Benefits Available for Stepchildren?
- SSA: Benefits for Children
- SSA: Will Remarriage Affect my Social Security Benefits?
- Social Security Administration: Survivors Planner - How to Apply for Survivors Benefits
- Social Security Administration: Contact Social Security by Phone
- Social Security Administration: Benefits Planner – How Credits Are Earned
- Social Security Administration: SSA-3368 Adult Disability Report
- Social Security Administration: SSA-827 Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration (SSA)
Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a ghostwriter for a credit card processing service and has ghostwritten about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, Ecommerce Insiders, GoBankingRates, and ThriveBy30.