When individuals become eligible for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, there are circumstances in which the people who rely on their income (called dependents) are also eligible for benefits from Social Security. Whether a certain family member or relative is eligible for disability benefits for dependents depends on the type of Social Security Disability benefits the disabled individual receives and the dependent's relationship to the disabled individual.
Types of Social Security Benefits
First, there are two types of Social Security Disability benefits that an individual can receive: Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) or Supplemental Insurance Income (SSI). SSDI can be received only by those individuals who have worked enough years to qualify. (See our overview of SSDI.) SSDI benefits may be passed on to your children, spouse, and other dependents or to your survivors in the event of your death.
Those who have limited assets and income may be eligible for SSI. (See our overview of SSI.) Individuals do not need to have worked a certain amount of time prior to becoming disabled in order to qualify for this benefit. These benefits are not passed on to dependents or survivors.
Relationship to the Disabled Individual
Certain family members qualify for dependents' benefits (also called auxiliary benefits) when a disabled individual qualifies for disability benefits.
If your spouse becomes disabled and has sufficient work history to receive SSDI benefits, you may also be eligible to receive benefits if you meet one of the following requirements:
- You are 62 or older, or
- You are carrying for a child who is under 16 years old (or disabed) and is eligible for SSDI dependents' benefits.
Note that you may get penalized for collecting retirement benefits before full retirement age or for working while receiving benefits. For more information, see our article on benefits for spouses of disabled individuals.
If you are divorced but were married for ten years or more, you may be eligible to receive benefits from your ex-spouse. The requirements are as follows:
- You are not married; if you were remarried and that marriage later ended, you still qualify under this requirement.
- You are 62 or older.
- Your ex-spouse is eligible for SSDI benefits, and
- The benefits that you are entitled to receive based on your work history is less than the dependent benefit.
The marital status of your ex-spouse does not affect your ability to receive benefits from him or her. If you receive benefits, it will also not affect the benefits that your ex-spouse or his or her current spouse will receive.
Children whose parents become eligible for SSDI benefits due to disability may be eligible to receive benefits. Social Security includes biological children, adopted children, and dependent stepchildren in their definition of children. In order for a child to be eligible for benefits, he or she must be:
- unmarried, and
- younger than 18 years old.
For more information, see our article on Social Security dependents benefits for children.
There are instances when children can continue to receive benefits after they reach 18 years old. Those qualifications are covered in the “Adult Children” section below.
Adult children are any children that are at least 18 years old. There are two ways in which adult children can continue to receive their parent’s benefits.
- The child is a full-time student at a secondary school and is under 19 years old. The school must provide education only until 12th grade; a child enrolled in college is not considered to be a full-time student for the purpose of receiving these benefits. Benefits will usually continue until graduation or two months after your child’s 19th birthday, whichever comes first.
- Your child is disabled and the disability occurred before the child turned 22 years old. (See our article on disability benefits for disabled adult children.)
It is possible for grandchildren to receive benefits based on a grandparent's earning record. Step-grandchildren are considered the same as grandchildren. In order to receive these dependents benefits, all of the following requirements must be met:
- The parents of the grandchild must be deceased or disabled.
- The grandchild began living with the grandparent before he or she turned 18 years old.
- The grandchild received at least half of his or her support from the grandparent in the year before the grandparent became eligible to receive SSDI benefits.
- If the grandchild is under 12 months old, it must be shown that he or she lived with the grandparent and received at least half of his or her support from the grandparent since birth.
If the grandchild is adopted by the grandparents, they do not need to meet the above requirements. Instead, they must meet the requirements found in the “Children” section, above, which covers adopted children.
If you are the older parent of a insured worker who has died, and you were dependent on him or her for more than half of your support, you can collect a Social Security benefit. Social Security will pay you a monthly benefits under the following conditions:
- You must be at least 62 years old.
- You must not have remarried since your child's death.
- You must not be entitled to your own, higher Social Security benefit, and
- You were receiving at least one-half of your financial support from your child at the time of his or her death. You must submit evidence of this financial support to Social Security within two years of your child's death.
How Much You and Your Family May Receive
A dependent may be eligible for up to 50% of the amount of the disability benefit received by the disabled individual. However, there is a family limit on benefits. Social Security will only pay 150-180% of the disabled individual’s benefits for the entire family; the exact percentage is determined by a formula by Social Security. If the amount that the family would receive is above that limit, the benefits to the dependent family members will be reduced equally.
Let’s look at an example for a family of four (husband, wife, and two children under ten years old) where the husband is the sole earner. If the husband were to become disabled, the two children would be eligible to receive up to 50% each of his SSDI disability benefit. The wife would also be eligible for up to 50% of her husband’s disability benefits, because her children are receiving disability. However, if all the family members received the amount they were fully eligible for, Social Security would be paying 250% of the husband’s disability benefit to the family (100% for the husband, 50% for the wife, and 50% for each child). Therefore, Social Security would reduce the wife and two children’s payments equally so the total family benefit was within the range of 150-180% of the husband’s awarded disability benefit. The husband's benefit would not be reduced.
To learn more, visit our section on Social Security dependents benefits.