Social Security Death Benefits for Children

As most Americans know, the Social Security Administration (SSA) pays out Social Security benefits to all retired American taxpayers who have accumulated enough Social Security credits — essentially, who have worked for ten years or more. Benefits begin at full retirement age (when you are 65, 66, or 67, depending on your year of birth), although one can opt to begin receiving benefits at a reduced level at age 62, or defer payments until as late as age 70, getting a larger monthly check in return.

However, what happens to your benefits if you die early? Are there Social Security death benefits for children?


Fortunately, your entire family can benefit from your Social Security earnings should you die prematurely. For your child to receive your benefits:

(1) The child must be a biological child, adopted child, or dependent stepchild;

(2) You must have accumulated enough Social Security credits (defined as 40 credits, or quarters — effectively, ten years of work); and

(3) Your child must be unmarried and younger than age 18. An 18- or 19-year-old may also be eligible to receive your benefits if he or she is a full-time student (no higher than 12th grade — a senior in high school). And a child of any age may be eligible for your Social Security benefits if he or she is disabled, provided the disability began before the child was 22 years of age.

How to Apply for Benefits-Documents Required

In order to apply for benefits, you must present the child’s birth certificate, the deceased parent’s and the child’s Social Security numbers, and the deceased parent’s death certificate or other proof of death. Other documents may be required, depending on the circumstances; if you are applying to transfer benefits to a disabled child, for instance, you will need to show medical evidence of the disability, including evidence that the child has suffered from the disability since age 22 or earlier if the child is older than that age at the time of application.

Benefit Allowance

A single child may be eligible to receive 75 percent of a deceased parent’s Social Security benefits. However, if a family has multiple children plus a surviving spouse, there is a family maximum payment, determined via computations made by the SSA. Generally, the family maximum is 150 to 180 percent of the deceased parent’s full benefit amount. If the total amount that each surviving family member is eligible to receive on his or her own exceeds the family maximum, then each family member’s benefit is reduced proportionately.

A surviving spouse, of course, is the primary beneficiary of a deceased worker’s Social Security benefits, eligible to receive 100 percent of the deceased’s benefits if the spouse has reached full retirement age. However, if there are also eligible children, the spouse’s share is automatically reduced to make room for payments to a child or children and still stay under the family maximum. For instance, a widow or widower of any age with a child under the age of 16 will receive only 75 percent of the deceased’s full benefit amount, with the remainder (up to the family limit) going to the child or split among two or more children.

The calculations, as can be seen, can be complex. It’s advised that you visit your local Social Security service center and speak with a representative in person to ensure that you receive the maximum benefits to which you’re entitled. And, although you are likely to be in mourning or even a state of shock especially if the death of your loved one was unexpected, apply for benefits as early as you can manage, or have a close friend or relative help you with the process. Benefits may start from the date of application rather than the date of the wage earner’s death, so delaying the process will only reduce the number of benefits checks to which you are entitled.