Social Security Benefits for Children of Disabled Parents

If you qualify for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, your dependent children might also be eligible for benefits.

Updated by , Attorney · UC Law San Francisco

If one or both parents in a family qualifies for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) benefits, then their dependent children might also be eligible for monthly cash benefits. Specifically, if you're a parent who receives SSDI because of a disability that prevents you from working, your minor child can receive a monthly cash benefit too.

The benefits paid to a child based on the Social Security record of a disabled parent are called "auxiliary" or "dependent benefits," and the child is known as an "auxiliary beneficiary." (Note that auxiliary benefits aren't available for children based on their parents' SSI (Supplemental Security Income) benefits. For more information, see our article on the differences between SSI and SSDI.)

For your child to collect auxiliary, or dependents, benefits based on your Social Security record, you must:

  • be disabled and unable to work, and
  • have earned enough work credits to qualify for SSDI.

But these aren't the only requirements. Here are the details.

SSDI Benefits for a Dependent Child

A child must meet several types of qualifications to be eligible for SSDI benefits.

Relationship. For a child to be eligible for dependents benefits based on your Social Security record, the dependent child must be related to you in one of the following ways:

  • biological child
  • adopted child
  • stepchild
  • grandchild (if you have legal custody and there is no living parent), or
  • stepgrandchild (if you have adopted the child and there is no living parent).

Age. Your child can receive dependents benefits if the child is:

  • unmarried
  • younger than 18, or
  • younger than 19 and a full-time high school student. (Being a full-time student at a college or university doesn't qualify.)

If your child has been receiving dependents benefits but marries before turning 18, the Social Security Administration (SSA) will stop all dependent benefits.

Financial dependence. To collect benefits based on your earnings record, the child must be your financial dependent (whether you're the parent or grandparent).

Parentage established. It doesn't matter if you were ever married to the child's other parent. Both children born during a marriage and those born to unmarried parents are eligible for benefits. But if you weren't married when your child was born, the disabled parent must establish parentage in order for your child to qualify for benefits based on that parent's work record.

SSDI Benefits for Children With Disabilities

Your minor dependent child can receive dependents benefits based on your work record (as the disabled parent) even if the child isn't disabled. But for your adult children to continue to draw SSDI benefits based on your earnings record, they must:

  • be unmarried
  • be disabled, and
  • have become disabled before age 22.

Learn more about filing for Social Security benefits for your disabled adult child.

Social Security Survivors Benefits for Children

A dependent minor child whose parent died while receiving SSDI disability benefits (or whose parent had earned enough Social Security credits before dying to be eligible for retirement benefits) is eligible for a survivors benefit. This also applies to unmarried, disabled adult children—as long as the child became disabled before age 22.

How to File a Dependents Benefits Claim for Children of Disabled Parents

You can file for dependents benefits for your child at the same time you file for disability benefits for yourself, or you can do it separately. If your disability claim has already been approved, call the SSA at 800-772-1213 (TTY: 800-325-0778) to set up an appointment to apply for the child's benefit. Setting up an appointment will reduce the amount of time you spend waiting in the Social Security office.

What You'll Need to Apply for Social Security Child's Benefits

You'll likely have to fill out an application at your local SSA office, but an SSA representative can provide you with some assistance in applying. You can speed up the process by having the required documents and information ready.

To show that your child is eligible for benefits, you'll need to provide the SSA with:

  • your child's birth certificate (or other proof of birth or adoption)
  • your child's proof of U.S. citizenship or lawful alien status (if your child wasn't born in the United States)
  • proof that the disabled parent is married to the child's natural or adoptive parent (if the child is asking for benefits as a stepchild), and
  • W-2 form(s) and/or self-employment tax returns (if the child had earnings last year).

If you're applying for survivors benefits, you'll also need to provide proof of the parent's death—for example, by bringing a death certificate.

If you're applying for benefits for your disabled adult child, you'll need to complete a couple of additional forms. The SSA requires you to fill out the following:

Note that the SSA will accept photocopies of W-2 forms, self-employment tax returns, and medical documents. But most other documents, including birth certificates, must be originals. The SSA will return the original documents to you.

And don't delay filing your application because you don't have some of the documents. An SSA representative can help you gather any documents you're missing.

Questions the SSA Will Ask About Your Child's Benefit Claim

In addition to the required documentation, the SSA will also ask you to provide information about your child, the child's living arrangements, and the disabled worker (whether that's you or another parent). For each of the disabled parent's minor children (and adult children disabled before age 22), the SSA will need to know:

  • the child's Social Security number
  • your name and Social Security number (as the parent filing the claim on behalf of the child)
  • your relationship to the child (natural, adoptive, or stepparent)
  • the disabled parent's name and Social Security number (if that's not you)
  • the child's relationship to the disabled parent (natural child, adopted child, stepchild, dependent grandchild, or something else)
  • whether the child has lived with the disabled parent for each of the last 13 months (if not, where, when, and with whom the child lived)
  • whether the child has been adopted by someone other than the disabled parent (and the adoption date)
  • where the child currently lives—if not with you and/or the disabled parent, the SSA will need the name and address of the person with whom the child lives and their relationship to the child
  • whether the child has ever been married (including the date and location of the marriage) and if no longer married, how, when, and where the marriage ended, and
  • whether you or anyone else has ever filed for Social Security benefits, Medicare, or Supplemental Security Income (SSI) on behalf of the child, and on whose Social Security record you applied.

If you're applying for Social Security survivors benefits on behalf of a child whose parent has died, the SSA will also ask about:

  • the deceased parent's employment and earnings history
  • the deceased parent's military service, and
  • whether the deceased parent ever filed for Social Security retirement benefits, Medicare, SSDI, or SSI.

If you're applying to be a representative payee for the child, Social Security will need to know if you've served as a representative payee for anyone before. The SSA will also ask if you have a criminal record, specifically if you've ever been convicted of a felony—as that might disqualify you to serve as the representative payee for the dependent child.

How Much SSDI Can a Dependent Child Get?

The amount of SSDI dependents benefits your child can get is based on two things:

  • the amount of your SSDI benefit (as the disabled parent), and
  • the number of family members receiving benefits based on your qualifying earnings.

In general, if you're disabled, your child could receive up to 50% of your SSDI benefit amount. If your child is eligible for a survivors benefit, the child could get up to 75% of their deceased parent's basic Social Security benefit.

The SSA has also set a maximum family benefit (MFB) limit—the total amount of the Social Security benefits paid to the whole family, including the disabled person's monthly benefit. The MFB is typically 150% to 180% of the disabled person's SSDI benefit amount.

For example, let's say you're a disabled parent receiving $1,500 per month in SSDI benefits. If you have one eligible child, that child would receive a dependent benefit of about $750 per month (50% of your benefit amount). The total amount of your benefit and your child's benefit would be 150% of your SSDI amount, which doesn't go over the MFB.

But if you have two children, your MFB would be about $2,700 (180% of your SSDI amount). Although each child would be eligible for $750 per month, if the SSA paid each child's full benefit amount, your family benefit would be $3,000—exceeding your MFB. So, each child's dependent benefit would be reduced to $600 per month to keep your family's benefits under the maximum family benefit limit.

Any time your family's total benefits would be more than the MFB, the SSA will reduce each dependent's benefit amount to bring the family's total down to the MFB. But note that the SSA will never change your SSDI benefit amount (as the disabled worker) to adjust for MFB.

Learn more about how to get auxiliary Social Security benefits for your other dependents.

Updated July 26, 2022

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