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Social Security Survivor Benefits for Children

Social Security pays retirement, disability, family, and survivor benefits. Through survivor benefits, Social Security provides income for the families of workers who die. About 4.4 million children receive approximately $2.5 billion each month because one or both of their parents are disabled, retired, or deceased. When a parent dies, Social Security survivor benefits can help to stabilize a family's finances.

Social Security Survivor Benefits for Children: Eligibility

When you pass away, your family may be eligible to receive survivor benefits if you worked, paid Social Security taxes (OASDI), and earned enough work credits. The number of credits needed depends on your age when you die. The younger you are when you die, the less credits you'll need for survivor benefits. To be fully insured for benefits, you never need more than forty credits, or ten years of work.

However, if you're less than fully insured when you die, the amount of survivor benefits will be limited. At a minimum you need to earn six work credits in the thirteen quarters before you die in order for your children to receive limited benefits. And, like retirement benefits, the amount of survivor benefits that your family may receive is based on your average lifetime earnings. Higher earnings means a higher survivor benefit.

Who Can Receive Child Benefits?

Your child can receive benefits if he or she is your biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild. Your child must be unmarried and:

  • Younger than age 18,
  • 18-19 years old and a full-time student (no higher than grade 12), or
  • 18 or older and disabled (the disability having started before age 22).

Before your child's 18th birthday, you'll receive notice that benefits will end at 18 unless your child is a full-time student at school. If your child is younger than 19 and still attending school, he or she must complete a statement of attendance certified by a school official. In this situation, benefits usually continue until your child graduates or until two months after your child reaches age 19. Benefits continue to be paid to a child at 18 who is disabled. Childhood disability payments are payable after a child reaches 18 if the disability began before the child turned 22.

Survivor Benefits Limits

There's a limit to the benefit amount that family members can receive each month. Although the limit varies, it's generally equal to about 150 to 180 percent of your basic benefit amount (your benefit amount at your full retirement age). If the total of the benefits payable to family members is greater than this limit, the benefits will be reduced proportionately. A child who meets the definition of eligibility receives 75 percent of your basic benefit amount.

One-Time Death Payment

If you've worked long enough, there's a one-time payment of $255 that can be made when you die. Payment can only be made to your spouse or child if he or she meets certain requirements. Survivors must apply for this payment within two years of death.

Are Social Security Survivor Benefits for Children Taxable?

Survivor benefits paid to a child are potentially taxable income. The taxability of the benefits is determined using the income of the child receiving benefits. The benefits are taxable only if the child receives a certain amount of income in addition to the benefits. However, in most cases, a child won't receive enough additional income to make the benefits taxable.

Find Legal Help

When applying for Social Security survivor benefits for children, the required documents may include the child's birth certificate, the parent's and child's Social Security numbers, proof of the parent's death, documents supporting the child's disability, and documents supporting the child's school attendance. If you need assistance with your claim you contact a Social Security attorney now.

You Don’t Have To Solve This on Your Own – Get a Lawyer’s Help

Meeting with a lawyer can help you understand your options and how to best protect your rights. Visit our attorney directory to find a lawyer near you who can help.

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Next Steps

Contact a qualified social security lawyer to assist in your social security disability or retirement benefits issue.

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