What Kind of Social Security Benefits Are My Family Members Eligible For?

By Jonathan Peterson

Copyright © 2015 AARP

Before you can identify the Social Security benefits that your family members may receive, you need to know the SSA definition of family, spelling out who qualifies as a spouse, parent, child, grandchild, and parent of a worker. Once you are sure that a person qualifies, this information helps you determine what kind of benefits each group is eligible for.

Dependent children under 18

Social Security payments may go to a child under the age of 18 whose parent has died, become disabled, or retired. The child must be considered dependent on the parent (natural children are generally considered dependent), and the child must not be married. If the parent is disabled or retired, the child may get 50 percent of the parent’s full retirement benefit, also known as the primary insurance amount (PIA).

If the parent has died, the child may get 75 percent. These amounts are subject to the family maximum.

Dependent children 18 and over

Benefits for unmarried, dependent children may continue to age 19 if the child has yet to graduate from high school. In this case, benefits may last either until the school term ends or for two months past the person’s 19th birthday, whichever comes first. The SSA expects the child to provide a statement of school attendance that has been signed by an official at the school.

Depending on state requirements, the SSA’s school attendance rule may be satisfied by a home school or online education program.

The benefit amount for dependent children ages 18 to 19 is the same as for dependent children under 18.

Disabled adult children

This benefit pays the same as those for dependent children under 18. It may go to the child of a covered worker after the child turns 18, if the child becomes disabled (as determined by the SSA) before reaching age 22.

The SSA has a strict definition of disability. It must entail a very serious ­physical or mental impairment that is expected to last at least a year or end in death.

This benefit may stop under certain circumstances (for example, if the ­individual’s health improves).

If an adult child is getting this benefit based on the record of a living parent and the parent dies, the adult child disability benefit is switched to a survivor benefit that potentially pays more — 75 percent of the worker’s full retirement amount, rather than 50 percent that the adult child may have been receiving previously.

Grandchildren

Under certain circumstances, grandchildren may qualify for kids’ benefits on the earnings record of a grandparent. Benefits for grandchildren are basically the same as other kids’ benefits. But in this case, they’re based on the earnings of a grandparent, not a parent. Such benefits may go to a grandchild under 18, if the child’s own parents have died or become disabled, or the grandparent legally adopts the grandchild.

To qualify, the child must have lived with the grandparent before turning 18 and depended on the grandparent for more than half of his or her support for about a year before the grandparent filed for Social Security benefits. (The time requirement is modified for children who are less than a year old.) If the grandparent is already getting benefits, adoption is required.

As with other child benefits, they could pay 50 percent of the full retirement benefit in the case of a living grandparent, and 75 percent if the grandparent dies (with the amounts subject to a family maximum).

Parents of a worker

If an adult child who financially supported his or her parents dies, the parents may qualify for a benefit. The parent has to be at least 62 years old and not eligible for a larger Social Security benefit based on his or her own earnings record.

For a parent who qualifies and is single, this benefit pays 82.5 percent of the adult child’s full retirement benefit. If both parents qualify, each gets 75 percent of the full retirement benefit. The parent’s benefit is available only in cases of death, not retirement or disability.

You have to prove to the SSA that you relied on your adult child for half of your financial support, either until your adult child died or until he or she became disabled before death. Such proof must be submitted within two years of the child’s death. Also, you don’t qualify for the benefit if you got married after the child’s death.