The Social Security Administration (SSA) administers disability benefits for those who are no longer able to work. Workers who have paid into the Social Security system are eligible for Social Security disability insurance (SSDI), which also provides monthly benefits for the dependents in a disabled person’s family. A variety of family members can qualify as dependents.
If one or both parents in a family qualifies for SSDI benefits, often the whole family can get benefits, known as auxiliary benefits, or dependents benefits. (Note that family members of a disabled worker who collects SSI (Supplemental Security Income) are not entitled to auxiliary benefits; this is an SSDI-only benefit. See our article on the difference between SSI and SSDI.)
The minor dependent children, stepchildren of a disabled worker receiving SSDI are usually eligible for auxiliary benefits, and often dependent grandchildren or stepgrandchildren are eligible as well, under certain circumstances. Unmarried minor children can receive these auxiliary benefits until turning 18 years old, or until turning 19 if the child is a full-time student.
If a child is disabled, he can continue receiving benefits for as long as he is disabled. In addition, adult children who became disabled prior to the age of twenty-two are eligible for SSDI payments as well as SSI.
A spouse or ex-spouse can get auxiliary benefits if he or she cares for children of the disabled worker, until the children turn 16. If a child of the disabled worker is disabled, the mother or father can receive benefits for as long as the disability continues (but if the disabled child is over age 22, the disability must have occurred before age 22).
The spouse of a disabled worker who receives SSDI can get Social Security benefits if the spouse is 62 years old or older and can’t get Social Security benefits based on his or her own record.
Similarly, if an ex-wife or husband was married for at least ten years to a disabled worker, the divorced spouse can get benefits starting at age 62 unless the ex-spouse remarries or can collect benefits on his or her own record. For more information, see our article on how a spouse can get disability benefits.
Each child and the spouse in the disabled worker’s family receives up to 50% of the disabled worker’s monthly disability amount. However, the total of the spouse’s benefit and the children’s benefit cannot be greater than the maximum family benefit, which is generally 150% of the disabled worker’s monthly SSDI benefit.
Note that a divorced spouse’s benefits don’t count toward the family total, unless the divorced spouse is caring for a minor or disabled child of the disabled worker (that is, collecting a mother’s or father’s benefit).
Call the Social Security Administration (SSA) at (800) 772-1213 to apply for the family SSDI benefits. The applicant must provide the SSA with their birth certificate, their marriage certificate if applying as a spouse, their Social Security number (and that of the disabled worker), and their bank’s routing information for direct deposit.
If an SSDI recipient dies, the children, spouses, ex-spouses, and even elderly parents who were dependent on the disability recipient can collect a Social Security benefit in some circumstances. For more information, see our topic page on Survivors Benefits.