Children’s Social Security Benefits: Rules, Amounts

Children who suffer the death of a parent or guardian may receive up to 75% of the deceased person’s Social Security retirement benefit until age 18 or 19 (longer if the child is also disabled). Social Security may also pay a one-time death benefit of $255.

Social Security survivor benefits for children are intended to provide a monthly income to help children complete high school after the death of a parent or guardian.

How do Social Security benefits for children work?

For a child to be eligible for Social Security survivor benefits, the child’s parent must meet one of two conditions.

  1. The parent must have been retired or disabled and entitled to Social Security benefits.

  2. The parent must have died after working in a job where they paid Social Security taxes.

If the deceased parent meets either of those conditions, a child may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits if they are unmarried and meet one or more of these criteria:

  • The child is younger than 18 years old.

  • The child is a full-time high school student up to 19 years old.

  • The child is an adult with a disability that began before turning 22 years old

In special circumstances, grandchildren can qualify for Social Security survivor benefits. For example, this may happen if the grandparents have legally adopted the grandchild or were already the child’s legal guardians when the parent died. Stepchildren, step-grandchildren and adopted children may also qualify

How long do children receive Social Security benefits?

Children may receive Social Security survivor benefits until they get married or turn 18, whichever comes first. If the child is still in high school, benefits continue until they graduate or two months after reaching age 19, whichever comes first. Children with disabilities that began before age 22 may continue receiving benefits for as long as they are disabled

How much are children’s Social Security survivor benefits?

Eligible children can receive up to 75% of a deceased parent’s basic Social Security retirement benefit. Social Security may also pay a one-time death benefit of $255.

There is a cap on how much a family can receive from Social Security each month. Collectively, a family can receive 150% to 180% of a deceased parent’s full benefit amount. If the sum of the family’s benefits exceeds the maximum allowed, each person’s benefit is reduced proportionately

For example, if four people in a family each receive $500 per month (for a total family benefit of $2,000) but the family’s allowed maximum is $1,800, the Social Security Administration reduces each person’s benefit by $50.

Estimate your Social Security retirement benefits

Your actual benefit may be lower or higher than estimate made with this calculator, because it does not take into account your actual earnings history.

We assume you have earnings every year until you begin receiving Social Security benefits. If you had several years of noncovered employment or your earnings changed significantly from year to year, this calculator will overestimate or underestimate your benefit.

How to apply for children’s Social Security survivor benefits

Social Security does not automatically send money to a child when a parent dies. The child’s guardian should take action immediately to secure the benefits for the child. In some cases, Social Security benefits are based on the date you apply, not when the parent died.

  • You must apply for the $255 lump-sum payment within two years of the date of death in order to be eligible

  • You can apply for Social Security benefits over the phone or at any Social Security office. The national toll-free number is 800-772-1213, or you can find a local office on the Social Security website.

Be prepared to supply these documents:

  • Child’s birth certificate or other proof of birth or adoption.

  • Proof of the parent’s marriage to the child’s natural or adoptive parent if they are a step-child.

  • Proof of the child’s U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status if the child was not born in the U.S.

  • W-2 forms or self-employment tax returns (if the child had earnings last year).

  • Adult Disability Report (Form SSA-3368) and Authorization to Disclose Information to the Social Security Administration (Form SSA-827) if the child is an adult who was disabled before age 22.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) asks numerous questions to determine eligibility for benefits. These questions cover personal information, the relationship with the deceased parent, other children that may be eligible for benefits, your earnings and more. The SSA will also ask questions about the parent’s death, employment record, military service, Social Security benefits and other factors. Depending on the information you provide, they may have additional questions.

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