Allocating Social Security Benefits for Grandchildren

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP. All rights reserved.

Retirement benefits are the first thing most people think of when the subject is Social Security. But that’s just part of the story. Workers who gain Social Security coverage potentially earn benefits for other family members.

In certain cases, this can include a worker’s grandchildren or step grandchildren. This benefit is meant to protect kids whose parents have died or become disabled, or who’ve been adopted by a grandparent.

The grandchild must be truly dependent on the grandparent, who must be able to document this. In addition, the grandparent must be a worker or retiree who has earned Social Security benefits.

The actual rules are a bit technical. (No surprise there.) To qualify, the child must rely on the grandparent for more than half of his or her support for a year before the month in which the grandparent begins receiving Social Security. If a grandparent is getting benefits before the grandchild becomes dependent, then another requirement kicks in: The older relative must adopt the child. In addition, the Social Security Administration requires that the child live with the grandparent before turning 18.

At a time when multi-generational families are increasingly common, these rules may apply to households that have no idea they qualify. Social Security does draw the line at grandchildren, however. A worker’s great-grandchild isn’t eligible.

Check here for a description of the Social Security benefit for grandchildren. But the language may be hard to follow. If you believe your grandchild may qualify for Social Security, call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778) or check in at your local Social Security office.