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Survivor Benefits for Children


When you hear about Social Security, retirement likely comes to mind. However, the Social Security Administration (SSA) every month disburses payments to millions of children with a parent who is deceased, disabled or retired. Survivor benefits are for children whose parent, grandparent or stepparent passed away and worked for at least half of the last three years. A surviving child can get up to 75% of a deceased parent’s Social Security benefit. Here’s how it works.

A financial advisor can help you plan for the future so your family will be taken care of in the event that something happens to you. 

What Are Survivor Benefits for Children?

Survivor benefits for children are Social Security payments based on the earnings of a parent who has passed away. Children can receive survivor benefits in installments or as a lump sum. These payments help children pay for life necessities, like food, housing and healthcare. The point at which a child ages out of survivor benefits depends on circumstances, such as education level and disability.

How Do Survivor Benefits Work?

If a child has a parent who works enough to earn Social Security in retirement and passes away, the child is eligible for survivor benefits. The child can receive payments until they turn 18, with two exceptions. First, if the child is still finishing high school, they can receive payments until 19. Second, a child with a disability that began before age 22 can receive survivor benefits throughout their entire life.

Stepchildren, grandchildren, step-grandchildren and adopted children may also be eligible for survivor benefits. Plus, a surviving spouse caring for a surviving child will receive payments until the child turns 16.

A working parent must have worked for at least a year and a half in the three years leading up to their death to activate survivor benefits. That said, a working parent who earns more throughout their lifetime can leave a bigger benefit. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will send as much as 75% of the parent’s primary insurance amount (PIA) to the surviving child. The SSA derives PIA from the parent’s age and average monthly income.

However, the SSA limits how much one family can receive in survivor benefits. Typically, the maximum is between 150% and 188% of the PIA. So, even if the parent leaves behind five children and a spouse, their individual survivor benefits cannot combine to exceed that amount.

Types of Child Social Security Benefits

Survivor Benefits for Children

The SSA disburses monthly payments for children in challenging circumstances. Children may qualify for one of the following:

Supplemental Security Income (SSI). A child with a physical or mental disability can receive SSI if they are less than 18 and are in a low-income family. Children receive SSI payments due to disability instead of the death of a parent.

Social Security Dependent. A child with a living parent, stepparent, or grandparent who receives Social Security payments can receive additional Social Security payments. These installments help retired or disabled caretakers pay for their children’s upbringing.

Child Survivor Benefits. If a parent, grandparent or stepparent passed away and worked for at least a year and a half out of the last three years, their children or grandchildren can receive payments until they finish high school or reach age 19, whichever comes first.

Who Qualifies for Survivor Benefits

In addition to the requirements outlined above, a child must be in school between kindergarten and high school to qualify for survivor benefits. When a child finishes high school, turns 19 or gets married, they no longer qualify for survivor benefits unless they are disabled. If a child has a disability that started before age 22, they can receive survivor benefits for life.

Likewise, surviving spouses can receive benefits, regardless of whether they have children. In addition, surviving spouses receive an extra payment if they are caring for a surviving child younger than 16.

When Does the Child Apply For Benefits?

A child applies for survivor benefits if a parent, grandparent or stepparent passes away. Notifying the SSA as soon as possible is crucial to receiving payments. Typically, the deceased person’s family can call the SSA or give the their information to a funeral home to report to the SSA.

Can a Surviving Child Receive Benefits After 18?

Survivor Benefits for Children

The surviving child can receive benefits after age 18 if they are still in elementary or high school. However, payments will end two months after the child turns 19, regardless of their education status.

As noted earlier, a child can receive benefits for their entire life if they have a disability that started before age 22.

Key Considerations: Survivor Benefits for Children  

Survivor benefits can be crucial for helping children afford the essentials and finish high school. However, a child will forfeit benefits if they get married, even if they’re under age 19 and still in high school.

In addition, the children receive benefits according to the family maximum the SSA calculates. A family – including surviving spouses and children – generally cannot receive more than 188% of the deceased parent’s Social Security benefit. Plus, an individual child can receive 75% of their deceased parent’s Social Security benefit at most. As a result, families may have to split the benefit among multiple surviving children.

The Bottom Line

Survivor benefits can help children make it through high school if the breadwinner of the family passes away. Generally, survivor benefits stop once the child graduates but unless they have a disability. A surviving child can receive 75% of their parent’s Social Security payment, while entire families can collectively receive up to 188%. Therefore, the benefit can compensate for a deceased parent’s lost income.

Financial Tips for Families

  • Caring for children can be expensive, especially if you’re a single parent. As a result, being financially organized and disciplined is essential. A financial advisor can help you budget, save, and make the most of every dollar with a sound financial plan. Finding a qualified financial advisor doesn’t have to be hard. SmartAsset’s free tool matches you with up to three financial advisors in your area, and you can interview your advisor matches at no cost to decide which one is right for you. If you’re ready to find an advisor who can help you achieve your financial goals, get started now.
  • Survivor benefits stop before a child enters college. Fortunately, you can use different strategies to afford higher education for your child. Explore this guide on setting up a college fund for kids for more.

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