For individuals who support a family, becoming disabled can be very difficult not only emotionally and physically, but financially as well. Social Security provides insurance in cases when a disability disrupts the ability of an individual to work and support their family. Depending on the type of Social Security benefit you receive, your children may also be eligible for Social Security monthly benefits, based on a percentage of the amount of money that you are awarded.
Does your child qualify for benefits based on your disability benefit?
If you worked a sufficient amount of time before you became disabled, you could receive a monthly Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) check based on the amount of time you worked and how much money you paid into the Social Security system.
If you don't have enough work history to qualify for SSDI, or you worked at a job that didn't pay into Social Security, you could receive benefits based on need, from Supplemental Security Income (SSI). However, only SSDI provides dependents benefits to your children. (SSI provides no benefit beyond the disabled individual, though disabled children can receive disability benefits under SSI.)
What requirements must be met for your child to receive benefits?
Under certain circumstances Social Security will provide benefits to your children if you become disabled. Social Security considers biological children, adopted children, or dependent stepchildren to be children of the disabled individual.
A child may receive benefits if they are (1) unmarried, and (2) younger than 18 years old. Unmarried children who are 18 years old or older may receive benefits in two circumstances: (1) the child is under 19 years old and is enrolled full time as a student in a secondary school; or (2) the child is disabled and the disability occurred before the child turned 22 years old. (For information on the second exception, see our article about disabled adult children receiving SSDI.)
Can grandchildren receive dependents' benefits?
If you have grandchildren or step-grandchildren whom you are raising, they may be eligible to receive SSDI benefits the same as your child would. Grandchildren may receive benefits if:
- their biological parents are deceased or disabled
- you provide regular support to the grandchild
- the grandchildren have lived with you for the 12 months before they became eligible for SSDI or, if under 12 months old, they have lived with you for substantially their entire lives, and
- you provide at last half of their financial support.
If you adopt your grandchildren, they do not need to meet the above requirements. They would be covered as children because they were adopted.
How do you apply for benefits for your child?
To apply for benefits for your child, you will need at least your Social Security number, your child’s Social Security number, and your child’s birth certificate. If your child does not already have a Social Security number, you will have to obtain one through Social Security before you can apply for the children's benefit. There may be other information that is needed; for example, if you are trying to obtain benefits for a full-time student who is over the age of 18, you will need to provide proof of enrollment in school. When meeting with Social Security to receive these benefits, you will be told if any additional information is necessary.
How much will your child receive in benefits?
How much your child receives in benefits depends upon how much money you, as the disabled individual, receive as a SSDI benefit. Generally, your child will receive up to 50% of your total SSDI benefit. It is important to note that there is a maximum amount that a family can receive based on one disabled individual’s benefits. The family limit is usually 150% - 180% of the total SSDI benefit awarded to the disabled individual. If your family would receive above that percentage, each individual receiving a benefit (with the exclusion of the disabled individual) will have their percentage of benefit lowered proportionally until the total benefit is below the percentage limit.
For example, if you are a single mother with four children and you become disabled, each child could potentially receive 50% of your SSDI award. However, if each child received 50% of your award, Social Security would be paying out 300% of your total award (100% received by you and 50% received by each of your four children). Therefore, you would receive your 100% as the disabled individual and your children would have their percentages lowered equally until the total family benefit fell below the percentage limit set by Social Security.
How long will your child receive benefits?
Generally, children will receive dependent SSDI benefits until they reach the age of 18 years old. The benefit will end the month before their 18th birthday.
If your child is a full-time student, the benefit will end when they graduate from or leave secondary school or two months after they turn 19, whichever happens first.
If your child is disabled, and became disabled before the age of 22, his or her monthly dependent benefit will continue indefinitely. (But consider if your child could receive greater benefits if he or she worked and were to apply for benefits as a disabled adult.)
If I die will my child continue to receive dependent benefits?
Yes, your child could receive a monthly survivors benefit for as long as he or she is eligible (according to the same rules as above). For more information, see our article on survivors disability benefits.