Children are often eligible to receive Social Security death benefits following the death of one or more of their parents. Eligibility is based on the length of time the deceased parent paid into the Social Security system and the child's age and/or circumstances.
Parental Qualification for Social Security Death Benefits
Parental qualification is the first factor in determining if a child is eligible to receive Social Security death benefits after the death of a parent. The Social Security Administration (SSA) uses a credit system to determine eligibility.
- Most people earn four credits per year, depending on how much money they earn and if they work full time in a job (or jobs) for which Social Security taxes are paid.
- At this rate, once someone has worked ten years they have earned 40 credits, which is the maximum number someone needs to earn in order to be eligible for Social Security benefits.
- The qualified child of anyone who has earned 40 credits prior to their death will be eligible to receive benefits, but that is not the only way a child can become eligible.
- If someone dies at a very young age, they may not have worked long enough to have 40 credits. In that case, the SSA takes the age of the deceased parent into consideration.
- Eligible children of a parent who dies very young can qualify for death benefits if the parent earned six credits (equivalent to one and a half years of full-time work) within the three years immediately preceding their death.
How Children Can Qualify to Receive Death Benefits From a Parent
Social security death benefits are available to unmarried children of a qualified individual who dies if they fit into one of the categories listed below. In this case, "child" refers to a biological or adopted child or dependent stepchild.
- Minor under the age of 18
- 18 or 19 year-old full-time high school student
- Disabled individual 18+ whose disability began before the age of 22
Note: Benefits also apply to grandchildren if the deceased grandparent legally adopted the child prior to passing away, or if the child is dependent on the grandparent because their biological parents are deceased or disabled. There are no circumstances in which a married child qualifies for death benefits after a parent dies.
How Much Do Children Receive?
Each person's situation is unique, so there isn't an easy answer to the question of how much money a child will receive in the form of death benefits following the death of a parent. The amount is based on a variety of factors, including the deceased parent's earnings history, their age, how many years they worked, and SSA payment limits (which change over time). The only way to know exactly how much a child will receive is to complete the application process.
- If multiple family members receive survivors' benefits, each eligible child can receive up to 50 percent of the amount the parent would have qualified for at retirement or upon becoming disabled.
- Whether a child receives the full 50 percent depends on family size. Each eligible individual's amount has to be proportionally adjusted to stay within the maximum allowable amount.
- For survivors' benefits, the maximum allowable amount for all eligible family members ranges from 150 percent to 180 percent of what the deceased individual's retirement/disability benefit would have been.
- If no one else in the family is receiving survivor's benefits, the child can receive up to 75 percent of the amount the parent would have qualified for at retirement or upon becoming disabled.
How to Apply for Social Security Benefits for Children
You can apply for social security benefits for the child of a deceased parent via phone or in person. It is not possible to apply online. To apply via phone, call 800-772-1213. To apply in person, go to an SSA office in your local area. You don't have to make an appointment before going to an office, but doing so can help reduce your wait time. Gather the necessary documents before calling or going to an office. You will need:
- Death certificate for the person who passed away
- Social Security number of the person who died
- Social Security number of the child who will receive the benefits
- The child's birth certificate
- For children born outside the U.S., proof of citizenship or lawful alien status
- For adopted children, proof of adoption
- For stepchildren, proof the deceased individual was married to the child's parent
- For disabled dependent adult children, completed forms SSA 368 (Adult Disability) and SSA-827 (Authorization to Disclose)
- For children who had income the previous year, W-2 forms or tax returns
- Bank account number and routing number (for direct deposit)
You will also need to be prepared to answer detailed questions about the child's circumstances, living arrangements, and how they are related to the deceased individual. If you are the caregiver of the child, you may also be eligible for some form of social security death benefits. To find out, you may need to provide your birth certificate and/or proof of status as a U.S. citizen or lawful resident. If you were married to the child's now-deceased parent, you may need to provide your marriage certificate.
Act Promptly to Apply for SSA Benefits
Losing a family member is difficult under any circumstances. When a child is left without a parent, the grieving process is further complicated by concerns about how the child's financial needs can continue to be met. Even though it's difficult to think about dealing with paperwork after a loved one dies, it's important to promptly apply for survivors' benefits. The faster the application is completed, the sooner the caregiver(s) will know what financial resources are available to help provide for the child's ongoing needs.