Social Security has provided benefits to the dependent children of retired beneficiaries since 1939. Benefits for the children of disabled workers began in 1958. With the increasing number of workers taking on the task of rearing their own grandchildren, 1972 legislation expanded the definition of dependent child to the dependent grandchild of workers receiving Social Security based on age, disability or upon their death.
Benefits Available to Grandchildren
To be eligible for benefits on the work record of his grandparent, a child must be the child, stepchild or adopted child of the natural or adopted child of the grandparent or the grandparent's spouse. Great-grandchildren cannot qualify. An eligible grandchild can receive benefits until age 18 or until age 19 if still in elementary or secondary school. If still in high school at age 19, benefits can continue to the end of the school year under some circumstances. Benefits terminate if the grandchild marries. However, if he becomes disabled before age 22, he can receive benefits as a disabled adult child on his grandparent's record indefinitely unless the grandchild marries. Disabled adult grandchildren benefits continue despite marrying if their marriage is to another Social Security beneficiary -- with the exception of marriage to a beneficiary of child or student benefits.
Status of Parents
Social Security regards the child's parents as the primary workers on whose records children can receive benefits. Children can qualify on the record of a grandparent only if the parents are either deceased or disabled. The parents must both be deceased or disabled at the time the grandparent becomes eligible for Social Security retirement or disability benefits, or at the time of the grandparent's death. Social Security will need evidence of the relationship of the grandparents to their grandchild, including proof of the child's and the grandparent's relationship to the child's natural or adoptive parents. If the parent or parents are disabled, Social Security requires proof of the disability. The parent may have to provide information about his disability so the SSA can make a disability determination if the parent does not receive disability benefits.
The grandchild must have lived with and received one-half of her support from the grandparent during the entire year before the grandparent's month of retirement, disability or death. The child must have begun living with the grandparent before turning age 18. If the grandchild was born less than a year before the grandparent died or became eligible for benefits, the support requirement needs to be met during a substantial portion of the period from birth until the grandparent's qualifying event.
Surviving Grandchild's Benefits
A child does not qualify for benefits on the grandparent's account if he does not meet the dependency test or his parents are not deceased or disabled when the grandparent becomes eligible for retirement or disability benefits. However, if the situation changes and the child's parents die or become disabled and the child meets the one-half dependency requirement at a later date, the child could qualify for survivor benefits if the grandparent dies. The child may also qualify for benefits as the adopted child of a grandparent even if adopted after the grandparent's death by her surviving spouse.