The death of a family member is emotionally devastating and often leaves survivors scrambling for resources to meet ongoing daily needs. If the deceased was the parent of minor children, ensuring they are well cared for becomes a paramount concern. Social Security provides benefits for surviving children to help ensure their daily needs are met until they graduate from high school.
Almost every unmarried child who has lost a parent is eligible for a monthly Social Security benefit payment until he reaches 18 years old. Typically, workers must have at least 40 credits in their Social Security accounts when they die for survivors to receive benefits; this requirement is waived for surviving children if the worker was employed for 18 or more months during the three years prior to death. Additionally, if a surviving child is 18 but actively pursuing a high school diploma, benefits extend until graduation or the child's 19th birthday, whichever comes first.
Social Security calculates the benefits for children with deceased parents based on the parent's lifetime earnings, which are indexed by internal process to obtain a monthly average that would equal the retirement benefit. Minors are paid 75 percent of the benefit amount. This means the child of a deceased worker who earned $40,000 annually for 15 years will receive larger monthly payments than the child of a worker with an identical salary but only 10 years of employment history. Payments cannot exceed the amount the deceased would be eligible to receive if still alive. Children who are the deceased's next of kin may also receive a onetime death benefit of $255.
Social Security benefits for children younger than 16 with deceased parents include monthly payments to the child's caretaker regardless of age or familial relationship. A surviving parent or caretaker who can prove legal parental control of the child is eligible to receive 75 percent of the total determined benefit amount until the child's 16th birthday. Social Security caps family benefits between 150 and 180 percent of the deceased's determined total eligibility.
Children under 18 cannot complete the application for survivors' benefits; a parent or legal guardian must do it for them. If you are the applying adult, you will need to present your birth certificate as well as the child's. You also must provide your military record if any, your employment history, proof of marriage if you were married to the deceased and proof of citizenship. You also will need the deceased's Social Security number and death certificate. You are not required to make an appointment -- though doing so will likely lessen your wait time -- but you must go into the Social Security office to apply; proof of death is not accepted online.
- Nolo: How Beneficiaries Can Claim Life Insurance and Social Security Benefits
- Social Security Administration: Survivors Planner -- If You Are The Survivor
- Social Security Administration: Your Retirement Benefit -- How It Is Figured
- Social Security Administration: Information You Need To Apply for Child's Benefits - Form SSA-4
- Social Security Administration: Survivors Benefits
- Social Security Administration: Kids and Family
- Social Security Administration: Benefits for Children
- Social Security Administration: Understanding the Benefits