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Social Security Benefits for the Child of a Deceased Parent

Children of deceased parents can collect Social Security survivor benefits based on their parent’s work record, at least up until a certain age.

Written by Erin Gobler / July 19, 2022

Quick Bites

  • Social Security is a program that provides retirement benefits to seniors who have paid Social Security taxes during their working years.
  • If someone dies and has minor children, their children may collect Social Security benefits on their deceased parent’s behalf.
  • To qualify for a deceased parent’s Social Security benefits, the parent must have worked a certain number of years, and the child must be under a certain age.

Most people contribute to Social Security for their entire working life to ensure they’ll receive benefits to help them live a comfortable life during retirement. Unfortunately, if someone dies before they can collect benefits, they may never get anything back from the money they put into the program.

That being said, someone who dies before being able to collect Social Security benefits may still be able to provide for their family with those benefits through what are known as survivor benefits.

Inside this article

  1. How does Social Security work?
  2. Children of deceased parents
  3. Getting your parent's benefit
  4. How to receive benefits
  5. When do survivor benefits end?
  6. FAQ

How does Social Security work?

The Social Security Administration was founded in 1935 to provide continuing income for seniors during retirement.[1] All workers pay a Social Security tax on their income and in return, everyone who meets certain work requirements receives income during retirement. The income someone can earn from Social Security retirement benefits is based on the 35 highest-earning years.

Social Security retirement benefits don’t work like your 401(k) or individual retirement account (IRA), where the money you contribute goes into an account that’s just for you. Instead, all of the money is pooled together to pay for the benefits paid to current retirees.[2]

What Is Social Security?

What Is Social Security?

Social Security is a social insurance program intended to prevent poverty in old age, survivorship and disability.

Find out more

What are the Social Security benefits for the child of a deceased parent?

Social Security retirement benefits are primarily designed for individuals who have reached retirement age. However, there are other situations in which someone can receive benefits. For example, the children of Social Security recipients may be eligible to receive benefits—known as survivor benefits—if a parent dies.

The amount the child of a deceased parent can earn is based on their parent’s work record. However, they won’t be able to earn the full benefit their parent would have earned during retirement. Instead, children who meet the requirements to collect survivor benefits can collect 75% of their deceased parent’s benefits.

While a child can’t receive 100% of their deceased parent’s benefits, their other parent may be able to. Widows and widowers of full retirement age can receive 100% of their deceased spouse’s benefits. Those under the full retirement age who are at least 60 can earn up to 99% of their spouse’s benefit. Finally, widows or widowers who are caring for a child under age 16 can earn 75% of their deceased spouse’s benefits. Therefore, if one spouse dies and leaves behind a spouse and child, the two could collect a combined 150% of the deceased spouse’s benefits.[3]

What Is the Average Retirement Age?

What Is the Average Retirement Age?

The age U.S. workers tend to retire is 65. It’s different from the age where they become eligible for Social Security, and from when they hope to retire.

Find out more

How does one qualify for a parent’s Social Security benefits?

For a child to be eligible to collect Social Security benefits after a parent’s death, the parent must first qualify for those benefits. To be eligible for full benefits, the parent must have earned at least 40 work credits, which generally means they must have worked at least 10 years. Someone can qualify for partial benefits after working fewer than 10 years, but they won’t be eligible for the full amount.

To qualify for a deceased parent’s benefits, a child must be under 18. A child may collect benefits up to age 19 if they’re a full-time student in elementary or secondary school. Finally, a child may qualify if they are over age 18, and have a disability that began before they turned 22.[3]

How to receive benefits

To apply for Social Security survivors benefits for a child, a parent will need the child’s birth certificate or another document showing proof of birth or adoption. Additionally, they’ll have to provide the Social Security number of both the deceased parent and the child. In some cases, other documents may be required as well. For example, when applying on behalf of a child with a disability, proof of the disability will also be required.[4]

Once you’ve gathered the required documentation, you can apply by calling 1-800-772-1213. You cannot report a death or apply for survivors' benefits online.[5]

When do survivor benefits end?

As we’ve mentioned, the age until someone can collect survivor’s benefits for a deceased parent depends on their situation. For most people, benefits are only available until age 18. Benefits may be available until 19 for elementary and secondary students, or longer for those diagnosed with a disability before age 22.

For surviving spouses, there isn’t necessarily a limit on how long they can collect benefits. Widows and widowers who aren’t old enough to collect retirement benefits can collect survivor benefits until their child reaches 16. However, surviving spouses who reach the minimum age to collect retirement benefits can collect based on their deceased spouse’s work record for the rest of their lives.[3]

FAQ

Can a child receive Social Security benefits if the deceased parent never worked?

Unfortunately, a child can’t receive Social Security survivor benefits for a parent that didn’t work. The parent must have worked at least 10 years to be eligible for full benefits, though partial benefits may be available for fewer years of work.

How are Social Security benefits calculated for a child?

Social Security retirement benefits are based on a worker’s 35 highest-earning years. Children of a deceased parent can collect 75% of their deceased parent’s benefits.

Article Sources
  1. “Historical Background and Development of Social Security.” Social Security Administration. https://www.ssa.gov/history/briefhistory3.html.
  2. “Learn About Retirement Benefits.” Social Security Administration. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/retirement/learn.html.
  3. “If You Are The Survivor.” Social Security Administration. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/survivors/ifyou.html.
  4. “Benefits for Children.” Social Security Administration. https://www.ssa.gov/pubs/EN-05-10085.pdf.
  5. “Apply for Social Security Benefits.” Social Security Administration. https://www.ssa.gov/benefits/forms/.

About the Author

Erin Gobler

Erin Gobler

Erin is a personal finance expert and journalist who has been writing online for nearly a decade. Erin’s work has appeared in major financial publications, including Fox Business, Time, Credit Karma, and more.

Full bio

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