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Dependent and Spouse Benefits Under Social Security Disability

If you've been approved for Social Security disability benefits, dependents who rely on your income may also qualify for benefits.

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). Only individuals who have worked enough years to qualify can receive SSDI. (See our overview of SSDI.) An SSDI recipient's children, spouse, and sometimes even parents can collect dependents benefits as well as survivors benefits after the individual's 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. An SSI recipient's dependents or survivors are not entitled to dependents benefits.

Dependents Who Qualify for Benefits

Certain family members qualify for dependents' benefits (also called auxiliary benefits) when a disabled individual collects SSDI disability benefits.

Spouse

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 disabled) and is eligible for 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.

Ex-Spouse

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 remarried and that marriage later ended, you still qualify under this requirement).
  • You are 62 or older, and
  • Your ex-spouse is eligible for SSDI benefits.

If you are entitled to receive retirement benefits based on your work history, you won't receive dependent benefits unless your own retirement benefit is less.

Whether or not your ex-spouse has remarried doesn't affect your ability to receive benefits. And when you receive benefits based on your ex-spouse disability, it will not affect the benefits received by your ex-spouse and his or her current spouse, if he or she remarried.

Minor Children

Children with a parent who collects SSDI benefits due to disability are usually 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 these 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.

Adult Children

Adult children (18 or over) with a parent who collects SSDI can receive dependents benefits in the following circumstances:

  • The child is a full-time student at a secondary school and is under 19 years old. (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.

Grandchildren

It is possible for grandchildren or step-grandchildren to receive dependents benefits if a grandparent is collecting SSDI. In order to receive these dependents benefits, all of the following must be true:

  • The parents of the grandchild must be deceased or disabled.
  • The grandchild must have begun living with the grandparent before he or she turned 18 years old.
  • The grandchild must have received at least half of his or her financial support from the grandparent in the year before the grandparent became eligible to receive SSDI benefits.

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.

Parents

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 benefit if all of the following are true:

  • You are at least 62 years old.
  • You have not have remarried since your child's death.
  • You are not be entitled to your own, higher Social Security benefit.
  • 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 Dependents Can Receive

A dependent may be eligible for up to 50% of the amount of the disability benefits 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 are 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 and she is caring for them. However, if all of 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.

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