Millions of Americans rely on Social Security benefits for retirement income. Many more receive disability benefits to help provide for their basic life needs. But, what about the family members of those benefit recipients? Are they entitled to receive any benefits from the Social Security Administration? The answer is yes! If you receive Social Security benefits and have an eligible dependent, then that dependent might be able to receive benefits as well. Their eligibility and benefit amount will depend on a few factors. Keep reading as we tell you everything you need to know about Social Security family benefits.
Who Qualifies As Social Security Dependents?
When most people think of a dependent, they immediately think of a child. While it is true that a child does qualify as a dependent, there are many other family members who might qualify for monthly benefits. The SSA lists several different beneficiaries who could be considered dependents that you might not think of right away. These are as follows:
- Adult child disabled before age 22 (Disabled child)
That’s right — even your parents, grandchildren, or an ex-spouse can potentially receive benefits as your dependent if certain criteria are met. In the next sections, we will dive deeper into the details about the benefits available to each dependent type.
Benefits For Children & Grandchildren
There are a couple of ways that a dependent child can qualify to receive benefits. The child can either be the child of a retired worker receiving Social Security retirement benefits or the child of a deceased worker. Children can also receive benefits if they have a parent receiving Social Security disability benefits. To receive benefits, the child must be unmarried, under the age of 18 (19 if enrolled as a full-time student in elementary or high school), or over the age of 18 but disabled from a disability that started before age 22.
A child can receive up to 50% of a living parent’s benefit. So, if the child’s parent is receiving retirement or disability benefits, then the child can receive up to 50% of that amount each month. The child’s benefit will not reduce the amount that the parent receives, so parents should take this into account when determining whether to begin their Social Security payments.
When it comes to a deceased worker, the child can receive up to 75% of the parent’s benefit in survivor benefits. The parent’s benefit is calculated as the benefit that they would have received had they continued working until full retirement age. Children may be either biological children, adopted children, or stepchildren. Grandchildren can also qualify for these benefits from their grandparents if they become dependents of the grandparent due to the death of their parent or other reasons. Great-grandchildren cannot qualify as a dependent.
Benefits For Retiree Spouses
The spouse of a retired worker can receive benefits based on the work history of their spouse. For your spouse to receive benefits, there are a few requirements that must be met. First, they must be at least 62 years old or be providing care for a child who is under 16 or one who receives disability benefits. If you are entitled to your own Social Security benefits, then the Social Security Administration will provide you with the higher amount of the two. Hence, if your own benefits would be higher using your own work history than receiving spousal benefits, then you will receive payments based on your own record. There are a few different strategies that you can use concerning the timing of using your own benefits versus those of your spouse to maximize your spousal benefits.
Spousal benefits are equal to 50% of the primary insurance amount (PIA) of the retired worker. This means that your spouse can receive a monthly payment in the amount of 50% of your monthly benefits. To receive this amount, the qualifying spouse must have reached full retirement age. If you elect to start the spousal benefits early, then the spousal benefits will be reduced. The formula for the reduction is similar to the one used for the computation of the benefit amount for workers who retire early.
Benefits For Living Spouses
So, what happens if your spouse is deceased? Can you still receive spousal benefit payments? Yes! In that case, the surviving spouse can receive survivor benefits based on the earnings record of the deceased spouse. This benefit is available to both widows and widowers who are age 60 or older or younger individuals who are caring for a child of the deceased worker.
The amount that Social Security pays a surviving spouse is up to 100% of the deceased spouse’s benefit. This means that the surviving spouse can receive the same amount of monthly payments that the deceased spouse was receiving at the time of death. This full benefit is only available if the surviving spouse has already reached normal retirement age. For younger spouses, the benefit amount ranges between 71.5 to 99.6%. The spouse also has the option to receive spousal benefits and later switch to normal retirement benefits based on their own work history if that amount would result in a higher monthly payment.
Benefits For Divorced Spouses
That’s right — even an ex-spouse can receive the same benefits as a spouse if they meet a few criteria. If you were married for at least ten years and have not remarried, then you can claim benefits based on the work record of your former spouse. In this case, the rules are essentially the same as the rules for a spouse.
However, there is one big difference when it comes to an ex-spouse. An ex-spouse may choose to start receiving their benefits even if you have not started your own benefits. A spouse must wait until the primary recipient has started benefits to claim their spousal benefits, but an ex-spouse does not have to wait. An ex-spouse does, however, have to be at least 62 years old, and the divorce must have been finalized for at least two years unless you are already at full retirement age.
Maximum Family Benefits
Social Security does set some limits on the total amount of benefits that a family can receive. This includes both the primary worker’s benefits along with the auxiliary benefits like spousal benefits or child benefits. This often comes into play with disability insurance (SSDI) benefits when the recipient has multiple children. It can also come into play with SSI or retirement benefits, but it is not as common there.
Computing the maximum family benefit is somewhat complicated, but it is based on the benefit amount of the primary earner. It can range anywhere from 150% to roughly 175% of the worker’s primary insurance amount. You can see the exact calculation and specific bend points at SSA.gov. This figure would give you the maximum monthly earnings that would be payable to a family regardless of the sum of the individual benefits that would be due.
The Bottom Line
Most people know that disabled workers and retirees can receive Social Security benefits, but you should also know that qualified family members can receive benefits as well. A dependent can range from a child to a spouse or even a parent in some cases. The dependent will need their Social Security number to apply, and there is a limit to the amount of benefits that the family as a whole can receive.
Frequently Asked Questions
What is the age to receive family benefits?
The age to receive family benefits varies based on each specific situation. Minor children can receive benefits based on the work history of a parent. Similarly, a spouse at full retirement age can receive benefits based on the work record of a deceased spouse. So, there is really no minimum nor maximum age to receive Social Security family benefits.
How do I apply for family benefits?
You can apply online for family benefits using the same method that a retired worker would use to apply for benefits. You can also use this method to apply for Medicare benefits should you qualify for those based on the Social Security taxes paid by you or a family member. The online application is the quickest and easiest way to get your family benefits started. You will need your Social Security number and documentation proving the relationship to the primary earner.
What are the different types of family benefits?
There are a few main types of family benefits. The first is child benefits. These benefits are available to the child of a retired worker or a worker who is receiving disability benefits, provided the child is under 18 in most cases. Grandchildren can also qualify in some cases. Spousal benefits are another big part of family benefits. These benefits even extend to ex-spouses who qualify and spouses of deceased workers. In some situations, benefits may be available to the parents of a worker, but specific criteria must be met in that case.