Guide to Survivor Benefits for Children | Adviser Investments

Understanding Survivor Benefits for Children

The Social Security Administration (SSA) pays out approximately $2.8 billion in monthly benefits to four million children because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired or deceased.

In this post, we explain what child survivor benefits are and who qualifies, while answering some popular Social Security questions.


3 Types of Child Social Security Benefits

Before discussing survivor benefits for children, it’s important to understand the three different types of child benefits provided by the SSA.

#1—Supplemental Security Income (SSI) for Children: Intended for families who have limited income and resources, SSI is a monthly payment to help children who have a physical or mental disability. The child must be under age 18 with a physical or mental condition that seriously limits their activities.

#2—Social Security Dependent Benefits: A child may receive Social Security benefits if their living parent, stepparent or grandparent is receiving Social Security retirement or disability benefits.

For example, if you retire early at age 62 and have children in high school or younger, they can collect Social Security benefits based on your earnings history. This additional household income could be a reason to claim Social Security early.

#3—Child Survivor Benefits: A child, stepchild or grandchild may qualify for Social Security survivor benefits when a parent or grandparent dies. These benefits help pay for necessities and create financial stability so children have a greater ability to complete high school.

Tip: To explore your options, read our post about when to file for Social Security

Benefits Are Based on a Parent’s Work History

Both dependent and survivor benefits are based on a parent’s or grandparent’s work history, and benefits stop when the child reaches age 18 unless the child is still in high school or disabled (if the disability began before age 22).

Also, there is a family limit. According to the SSA, “It can be from 150% to 180% of the parent’s full benefit amount. If the total amount payable to all family members exceeds this limit, we reduce each person’s benefit proportionately (except the parent’s) until the total equals the maximum allowable amount.”

Dependent vs. Survivor Benefits

There are two key differences between Social Security dependent benefits versus survivor benefits, including living status and benefit payout amounts.

For dependent benefits, the child’s parent or grandparent is alive, and the child may receive up to 50% of the respective caretakers full retirement or disability benefits.

Note, a living parent’s retirement or disability benefits are not impacted by a child’s Social Security benefits.

For child survivor benefits, the child’s parent or grandparent is deceased, and the child may receive up to 75% of the deceased’s Social Security benefits.

Answers to Popular Child Survivor Benefits Questions

Our advisers receive ongoing questions about Social Security family benefits. Below, we answer some of the most popular child survivor benefits questions.

Who Qualifies for Child Survivor Benefits Social Security?

Can a Grandchild Receive Social Security Dependent or Survivor Benefits?

Yes, your grandchild or step-grandchild could receive Social Security dependent or survivor benefits.

The general rules:

Your grandchild must have begun living with you before age 18 and received at least one half of their support from you for the year before the month you become entitled to retirement or disability insurance benefits or die. Generally, the child’s biological parents are deceased or disabled, or you’ve legally adopted your grandchild.

Tip: Understand your Social Security benefits. Read our popular posts: How Income Affects Social Security Benefits and Can You Retire on $500K Plus Social Security?

What Can You Spend Social Security Child Survivor Benefits On?

In general, a child’s survivor benefits are intended to help with the costs of clothing, food, medical care and housing.

The key goal is to help the child graduate from high school.

Can Child Support Be Taken From Survivor Benefits?

Yes, child support can be taken from survivor benefits. The SSA has the right to enforce an individual’s legal obligation to pay child support and alimony.

For more information, read our post: Levying & Taxing Social Security Retirement Benefits.

Will My Child Lose Survivor Benefits If I Remarry?

No, your child will not lose their survivor benefits if you remarry. However, if you’re also receiving survivor benefits as a widow (in addition to your child’s benefits), you may lose your benefits.

According to the SSA, for widow/widower or divorced widow/widower payments:

  • If you remarry before age 50, you won’t be entitled to survivor’s or disability benefits unless you divorce.
  • If you remarry between the ages of 50 and 59, you can’t get benefits. Note: If you remarry before you turn 60 and that marriage ends, you may become entitled or re-entitled to benefits on your prior deceased spouse’s earnings record.
  • If you remarry after age 60, you may still become entitled to benefits on your prior deceased spouse’s Social Security earnings record.

Next Steps

Pursuing child survivor benefits can be a bit daunting, especially after just losing a loved one or if you’re a grandparent raising your grandchild.

To understand what documents you need to apply for Social Security child survivor benefits and how to begin the process, start at this SSA page.

If you need help understanding your Social Security benefits, please contact Adviser Investments anytime for assistance. We pride ourselves on being The Planner You Can Talk To.

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